Sainz was “laughing in the car” as Mercedes pair copied his DRS tactics at Suzuka

Formula 1

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Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jnr was amused the Mercedes drivers copied the DRS strategy he had used to win the Singapore Grand Prix a week earlier.

While leading the race in Singapore, Sainz deliberately slowed to give McLaren’s Lando Norris behind him the benefit of using DRS. That helped the McLaren driver repel the attack of the quicker Mercedes pair who were chasing the leaders.

The Mercedes drivers attempted to return the favour at Suzuka yesterday. In the closing stages of the race Sainz was chasing down George Russell, who was on more worn tyres having only pitted once, and Lewis Hamilton.

It took five laps for Hamilton to pass Russell, and once he did he was instructed by his team to slow down to help Russell stay ahead of Sainz. Despite that, Sainz was able to pick off his rival for sixth place.

“I found it [funny], actually,” said Sainz after the race. “I was laughing in the car because I could see Lewis backing off in 130R to give the DRS to George.”

Sainz said he realised “I need to make sure I attack George into the chicane. If not, I don’t throw him off-line, it’s going to be impossible to pass them.”

“I went very deep into the chicane, managed to get a bit of a switchback and then I used the DRS, slipstream and everything to pass him,” he explained. “It was good fun, and it nearly cost me my own position with my own tricks.”

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After passing Russell, Sainz built a gap of 7.4 seconds to him in less than four laps and finished within a second of Hamilton. Sainz said that as Hamilton was on the same two-stop strategy as him, overtaking was always going to be difficult.

“I think today Suzuka proved to be quite a tricky track to overtake and track position was fundamental. I was four or five tenths quicker than Lewis, closing in on him, and I don’t think that’s enough delta to pass. You could see the last two laps I was quicker, but it gets to a point where if you’re not one second quicker, you’re not passing.”

Sainz pointed out his team mate Charles Leclerc “took quite a long time to pass George, on very worn hards for George.”

The Ferrari believes he had “better pace than the results showed” after the timing of his pit stop cost him a place to Hamilton.

“It just proved to me that here today it was all about track position, which is what we lost at the pit stop,” he said. “We were four seconds in front of Lewis, we exited eight behind.”

“I got a very good start and then the first stint I felt like I had a bit more pace than the guys in front and managed all my tyres,” he explained. “But obviously being behind in track position is always going to cost you, especially in a difficult and hot Suzuka to overtake.

“Even when everyone was boxing in front, I could lower my lap times two or three tenths. So I was quite pleased with that.

“Obviously, in the end, the most important in a track like this is qualifying. So track position, and I paid the price for yesterday, but I’m glad that today I could find my rhythm back and I had a strong pace.”

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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17 comments on “Sainz was “laughing in the car” as Mercedes pair copied his DRS tactics at Suzuka”

  1. Carlos clearly has a short memory. Hamilton used a similar version of “his” trick against Rosberg at Abu Dhabi 2016, and I’m sure that wasn’t the first time.

    1. But that was for a different reason, he was trying to get them to pass rosberg, while these recent drs trains are being used to keep the 3rd car behind despite it having fresher tyres, and I’m still convinced they should’ve done it the other way around, russell, hamilton, sainz, they were already positioned like that and I saw no reasonable passing attempt from sainz till they swapped.

      1. George had it right on the radio, Hamilton had better tyres and more traction to fight Sainz into and out of the braking zones. Swapping the two only made George a sitting duck and cost the team more points.

        1. Hamilton being behind following a slower George could be caught by surprise at the hairpin or the subsequent corners, he actually almost did that.
          Once ahead of him Sainz would make quick work of George and they all would be looking like idiots for the sake of keeping George happy.

          What they did was probably the best they could take out of it.

          1. Right, the faster car following the slower car is inevitably going to be compromised in certain corners where he has to slow down to the level of the car ahead.

            Not all tracks will have such places that also facilitate overtaking, but the hairpin is one where Russell would have had to brake earlier and Hamilton had few options but to follow suit, thereby risking getting either overtaken there, or if he was too on the run down to Spoon because the leading car would also have had worse traction. You can sort of play with that by opening a bit of a gap through the Esses and then closing up ahead of the DRS zone, but it’s a tough balance to find.

          2. bq. What they did was probably the best they could take out of it.

            I’ve highlighted the important part of why it didn’t work as they wanted.

            It took five laps for Hamilton to pass Russell, and once he did, he was instructed by his team to slow down to help Russell stay ahead of Sainz. Despite that, Sainz was able to pick off his rival for sixth place.”

            Basically, George kicked himself.
            If he’d shifted out of the way and conceded the place he could never retain, he’d have had 5 laps of DRS assistance to pull him forward away from Sainz. Meanwhile, Sainz would have been without DRS. There was a much better chance of doing a p5 & P6 if it was done like that, but George didn’t want to do the swap at all.

            As it was, by the time George, very reluctantly, allowed an easy pass, Sainz was already in DRS range and the rearmost car of the slow pair would lose the place unless they made their car very wide.

            Blinded by greed for points…

        2. This is why you aren’t a strategist or team principal. Just saying….

      2. @esploratore1 ‘Them’ = Sebastian Vettel, whose car-based response was ‘no thanks, quite happy here in third’ :)

      3. It’s not as if any of these guys invented this trick. It’s not new. Towing or backing someone down are common strategies.

  2. I mean, even I was using the same strategy playing a game, many times. It just makes sense, it’s nothing very creative. And I always expected drivers to use that strategy. It’s something I’ve been aware of for years, so I can’t imagine F1 drivers weren’t. He played it well, but come on now… Next thing he’ll invent is alternating current or something.

  3. Backing off to create complications for your rivals. Does Sainz seriously think he invented a new move. A tactic that’s been around since racing… began?

    Used it many times myself sim-racing. Give the guy behind something to worry about behind them, instead of a clear attempt at you.

    1. @psynrg

      Give the guy behind something to worry about behind them, instead of a clear attempt at you.

      Not sure you understand, that is the exact opposite of what Sainz did.

  4. Stupid idea thinking something that works in a street track like SIngapore would work in Suzuka with 4 laps to go. Russell’s idea not Mercs, kid has a habit of asking for team orders all year long in silly situations or plays it up on radio. When Sainz/Hamilton got past they put easy 8+ seconds on George in 3 laps sure George backed off a little but shows how much the gap was

  5. the chances of them keeping 5 and 6 were greater with Lewis desperately trying to fend off Sainz, BUT, there was a pretty good chance Sainz would have passed both of them eventually as Lewis would have been slower than Russell down the straight to keep his position. Lewis picked the safer strategy for himself, Mercedes picked the riskier strategy with Russell’s 1 stop, and thats something that needs to stop IMO. Merc are taking way to many risks on strategies and not getting their race pace sorted out. Its almost like the compromised strategies are enabling not having to deal with the compromised car, which speaks to the management at Mercedes picking the track and guys like Lewis to make their car look better than taking the egg on the face, themselves. Its not fair to either driver IMO, and similar behaviors have been seen at companies like Ducati during the Stoner era. Gotta fix the car, and get that car closer to the W11, and start finding a way to get the laminar air flow to suck the floor down ,while optimizing their floor to deal with better changes in suspension geometry changes (maybe rounding out the tunnels, like RBR). Maybe Merc will need to use some sort of load emulators in place of their suspension in the wind tunnel, if they are not already.

    1. i miss the W11 that car was something else

  6. Never mind who started it, or claimed to invent it – that was some (more) daft Mercedes overthinking.

    And just as Verstappen and Leclerc’s game of Jeddah detection-point chicken was no finger lickin’ good, this is another unintended consequence of DRS.

    My solution, rather predictably: get rid of DRS… but surely they can come up with something to stop the crazy trains.

  7. Does he really think he pioneered this tactic?

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