Suzuka showed Mercedes can no longer expect tyre degradation advantage

Formula 1

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The once-dominant Mercedes team have been a shadow of their former selves since the current technical regulations were introduced at the beginning of last year. Out of the 38 grands prix since then, they’ve won just one.

But though their current car and its predecessor have tended to lag off the pace in qualifying they have often been more competitive in race trim. Their drivers have regularly enjoyed better tyre degradation than their rivals – Red Bull obviously notwithstanding – which has afforded them useful strategic options during races.

At a hot and unexpectedly abrasive Suzuka, that could have played to their advantage. But George Russell’s attempt to make a single pit stop, on a day when most preferred two, demonstrated that Mercedes’ strategic edge isn’t what it once was.

On paper, Mercedes appear to have made progress with both cars. Lewis Hamilton and Russell started seventh and eighth respectively, and came home fifth and seventh.

But factor in the retirement of Sergio Perez, who started ahead of them, and the true picture is less flattering. Hamilton gained just one place for the team, from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr.

Suzuka, 2023
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Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted that, at a circuit which suited their rivals’ cars more than the W14, Mercedes hadn’t been able to bank on getting better tyre life than the opposition.

“Part of it is linked to the temperature,” Shovlin explained. “So some of that deg you get is just as the tyres get hotter and hotter over the first eight laps or so. I think the performance deficit that was there in qualifying, where we have a bit less performance through the fast corners, is the same thing that’s costing us in the race.

“Really, at this track, it’s just about how much grip have you got in the fast corners? A lot of that will be downforce and we look like we’re a little bit behind in that regard. [Ferrari] did bring an updated floor, so maybe they moved forward.

“I think if you look at some of our recent tracks that advantage we had on degradation, it’s not as evident now in the season as it was in the earlier races.”

Nonetheless, Mercedes took a punt on a one-stop strategy. Russell was the only driver to do this. True, Esteban Ocon came close, pitting only once after a puncture forced him into the pits at the end of the first lap. But he completed the race from there on two sets of hards tyres while Russell, in order to comply with the rules, had change compounds at his sole stop.

Russell came in on lap 24 – one lap before Fernando Alonso, who followed him home, made his second and final visit. As the Aston Martin driver was clearly no threat from behind, Mercedes gambled on a one-stop with his car in the hope the degradation would not be too severe, which might allow them to beat Sainz.

“When we were looking at it earlier in the race, you were sort of projecting some better upsides that you could maybe do quite well if the others weren’t able to overtake you later on.

“At the point we were deciding to do it, it was actually looking like do we try and get to the end where we have a chance of being ahead of Sainz or do we stop, we drop behind Alonso, we’d have got through with new tyres and you’re behind Sainz anyway.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2023
Ferrari’s floor upgrade gave the SF-23 a lift
“So whilst the odds of holding back Sainz on the one-stop were relatively low, the reason that we committed to it was by virtue of the fact that there was nothing to lose. And there was no risk to George on a one-stop from Alonso behind. So we stayed with it. It was a difficult strategy to pull off and he did well to manage it, but the deg was just a bit too high to make it competitive.”

There was another upside to one-stopping Russell: It put him on a different strategy to his team mate, and the pair had already crossed swords twice by the time Hamilton headed for the pits on lap 16. Shovlin indicated this was a secondary consideration, however.

“In terms of what the team’s doing, we’re trying to score points against Ferrari, certainly in a race like today,” he said. “Once we realised that we were not challenging McLaren for a podium, we’re looking at what’s going on with Ferrari, we’re trying to use the two cars effectively to give us those opportunities and being able to get one of them was useful damage limitation given that they both started ahead of us in the race.”

However Mercedes may have to do more than damage limitation over the coming races. That was the fourth consecutive race in which Ferrari out-scored them, and Mercedes’ lead over their rivals in the hunt for second place in the world championship is down to just 20 points.

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Click name to highlight, right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

2023 Japanese Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below:

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

Rank#DriverCarLap timeGapAvg. speed (kph)Lap no.
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’34.183221.9639
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’35.2471.064219.4840
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’35.6111.428218.6536
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’36.1872.004217.3440
581Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’36.3282.145217.0238
616Charles LeclercFerrari1’36.3622.179216.9440
710Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’36.3712.188216.9236
814Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’37.2033.020215.0728
927Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’37.2503.067214.9644
1031Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’37.3983.215214.6434
1163George RussellMercedes1’37.6533.470214.0827
1222Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’37.7683.585213.8236
1324Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’37.7913.608213.7745
1420Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’37.8423.659213.6641
1540Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’38.2674.084212.7450
162Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’38.8484.665211.497
1718Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’39.0504.867211.0616
1823Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’39.1855.002210.7715
1911Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’39.7045.521209.678
2077Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’46.85212.669195.656

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

Rank#DriverTeamComplete stop time (s)Gap to best (s)Stop no.Lap no.
116Charles LeclercFerrari22.926234
222Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri22.9440.01819
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari23.0750.149118
440Liam LawsonAlphaTauri23.1360.21110
54Lando NorrisMcLaren23.1820.256236
616Charles LeclercFerrari23.1970.271117
781Oscar PiastriMcLaren23.1980.272235
822Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri23.3270.401230
927Nico HulkenbergHaas23.3380.412337
1055Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari23.3740.448238
1118Lance StrollAston Martin23.4410.515114
1227Nico HulkenbergHaas23.520.59418
134Lando NorrisMcLaren23.5230.597117
1444Lewis HamiltonMercedes23.6310.705234
1527Nico HulkenbergHaas23.660.734221
1640Liam LawsonAlphaTauri23.6710.745225
171Max VerstappenRed Bull23.6960.77237
1831Esteban OconAlpine23.7890.863228
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas23.8160.89112
2020Kevin MagnussenHaas23.8580.932231
2163George RussellMercedes24.0341.108124
2214Fernando AlonsoAston Martin24.0861.16111
2324Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo24.0911.165210
2424Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo24.1161.19329
2514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin24.2941.368225
261Max VerstappenRed Bull24.3821.456116
2781Oscar PiastriMcLaren24.4551.529113
2810Pierre GaslyAlpine24.4881.562118
2910Pierre GaslyAlpine24.6511.725234
3044Lewis HamiltonMercedes24.8411.915116
3131Esteban OconAlpine27.0564.1311
3211Sergio PerezRed Bull30.6517.725414
3311Sergio PerezRed Bull32.459.52412
342Logan SargeantWilliams32.7159.78912
352Logan SargeantWilliams35.18212.256321
3624Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo41.04118.11511
3711Sergio PerezRed Bull41.49918.573212
382Logan SargeantWilliams43.86820.94225
3923Alexander AlbonWilliams50.14327.21711
4023Alexander AlbonWilliams52.16529.239213
4177Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo53.51230.58626
4277Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo55.80232.87611
4311Sergio PerezRed Bull2,486.2902,463.364313

2023 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Suzuka showed Mercedes can no longer expect tyre degradation advantage”

  1. So this tire deg has nothing to do with their drivers senselessly battling each other on track then.

    1. Instead of wrecking their cars and making a mess they should duel with sabres, it is a lot classier

      1. seems you watched some wrong race. there was no contact.

        1. Looks like there soon will be and it won’t look pretty.

          1. Perez is the much bigger threat to anybody currently. Merc drivers are smart and skilled enough to avoid contact til now.

          2. @madmax do you realize that out of all top 7 drivers (max, check, leclerc, Sainz, Russell, Hamilton, and Alonso) Hamilton is the driver who have made more contact with other drivers this season.

            @melanos, I completely agree with you. The question is not if, is when. That when is in the really near future. It’s going to get ugly for the two of them.

  2. A full second faster than everybody else without even pushing. And naive people still think there’s a fight to be had in ’24 and ’25.

    1. If Mercedes want to contend during this rules era they kind of have to try to double-step development and mint a new concept the leapfrogs RBR. Copying the RBR side pod and diffuser concept won’t do anymore. It’s too late to climb that development ladder and catch RBR.

      I can see why they got high on their own supply after years of being the only low rake car and reeling in titles until the FIA started sawing off parts of their floor and messing with the brake ducts. They thought being different meant they were right.

  3. It’s amazing and even alarming how slow Oscar was in this race compared to Lando. Almost by half a second each lap. I wonder if he really had any damage on his car. Or maybe its just my estimation/hope that Piastri is way closer to Norris in terms of race pace that what we saw yesterday. This is his rookie season so perhaps we’ll see better.

  4. Sergio’s 2,486.290s pit stop, haha, I’m not sure that counts does it?

    1. Still beats Bottas 2021 Monaco pit stop :-)

  5. Mercedes is losing more than just tire life advantage – they are losing their competitive edge against Ferrari and McLaren.
    Despite Aston Martin imploding and Perez scoring less – Mercedes is doing worse over races 9-16 than they did the first 8 races.

    Race 1-8 167 points (4 podiums – 14x points)
    Race 9-16 138 points (2 podiums – 14x points)

    Race 1-8 122 points (1 podiums – 12x points)
    Race 9-16 163 points (4 podiums – 14x points)

    Race 1-8 17 points (0 podiums – 5x points)
    Race 9-16 155 points (5 podiums – 13x points)

    Aston Martin:
    Race 1-8 154 points (6 podiums – 13x points)
    Race 9-16 67 points (1 podiums – 10x points)

  6. I don’t know why an engineer like Showlin fakely tells us Suzuka is only about fast speed corners.

    Suzuka is about 1.29 s lap, fast speed corners are like 30s of it.

    If you are weaker in fast corners but stronger in the other minute of the lap you are competitive.

    Every corner and straight is important in every track to determine which car is stronger.

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