Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes’ struggles at the Japanese GP have shown „100 per cent” what aspects of their car they need to change in 2024.
On a relaxed Saturday for Max Verstappen’s rivals, the Red Bull driver roared to pole position by more than half a second around the acrobatic Suzuka circuit, while Mercedes’ Hamilton and George Russell finished seventh and eighth by more than a second.
Hamilton overtook Russell in intra-Mercedes qualifying for the first time since the August summer break and said he felt more comfortable in the car compared to Friday and how he was generally happier. had driven
But, as the Q3 stopwatch underlined, the Mercedes W14’s pace simply isn’t there to qualify for the top spot.
„Yesterday was a bad day,” Hamilton said Sky Sports F1. “Every weekend, out of three days… at least one bad day.
„Yesterday the balance was not good, we made some changes and good work overnight, today the car is generally very good. It was good to drive through P3, so I am more confident.
Lewis Hamilton tested a new internal camera during P3 of the Japanese GP.
“Then, I gave everything in qualifying. [downforce]. Our car has a lot of load in the front and not as much as we need in the back.
„So we’re a long way from that, and for me it’s 100 per cent clear – and we’ve got to make sure we turn it around next year, and hopefully we’ll do that.
„I gave it my all, I was happy with my laps, they weren’t that quick compared to others.”
’No big surprise’ but four-row 'still a shock to the system’
A week after a complete upheaval in Singapore at the front of the 2023 Farmbook field, Red Bull’s dominant pace suddenly evaporated on a street track that didn’t suit their car, the all-too-familiar narrative at Suzuka reemerged – and then some.
Mercedes’ fortunes throughout this double-title have proved the opposite of Red Bull – strong in Singapore but weak in Japan – and last week’s winners Ferrari are nowhere near as competitive as they were seven days ago.
McLaren were the closest team to Verstappen, qualifying second and third on Saturday, although they were sixth and tenth on the second pole.
Russell, who was a third slower than Hamilton in Q3, said: „It’s a fair representation of how we are at circuits like this. The big variation of corners – high-speed and low-speed corners, we struggle to cover all aspects.
“As we saw in Singapore last week, it’s the kind of cornering circuits where you can nail the car’s sweet spot and maximize downforce.
„Not a huge surprise, but obviously a shock to the system. But when you think about it rationally, it’s about where you expect it to be.”
Performance on the sweeping part of the track from the opening corners, once one of their strongholds, has been particularly problematic for Mercedes this year.
„It’s exactly where it was in FP3,” said Bradley Lord, Mercedes’ director of communications.
“The first area here with Essays is the stuff we’re not particularly strong at.
“We’ve seen McLaren take a good step there as well, so that was our deficit all weekend.
„We made some progress throughout the weekend, but even on that final lap the car was sliding there, George said the tires didn’t really bite. Lewis saw a little bit of progress, but unfortunately, we were shocked at where the pace was. The car.”
Lord added: „It’s a pretty clear picture of where we need to work and build ground over the winter. But there are still some improvements to come and hopefully that will help us take another small step forward. As well.”
Does Mercedes have an advantage over Ferrari in the race?
The fourth-fastest team in qualifying, Mercedes is still in touch with Ferrari and will sit second in the constructors’ championship heading into Sunday’s race.
The Scuderia’s cars qualified slightly ahead of them in fourth and sixth and Mercedes could gain a strategic advantage based on their remaining tire allocation.
„They have an extra hard tire on hand compared to everyone else,” he explained Sky Sports F1s Bernie Collins.
„We think it will be a multiple stop race and I think it will be an advantage compared to some of the others. I think McLaren has the harder tyre, but compared to Ferrari, Mercedes is a little bit ahead.
„Historically it’s a difficult track to overtake, but this year we’re seeing a much higher degradation. We’re going to see two to three stops rather than one to two as in the past. Mercedes are very good. They tend to pull it together on Sunday with their strategy and better race pace, so they’re still There’s no getting out of it.”
Hamilton and Mercedes in challenge for 2024
„It’s a steep gap that we have to close next year, but we’ve seen what the Astons have come up with this year,” Hamilton said, referring to Aston Martin’s big winter overhaul. „So they are [teams] Big steps can be taken.
„We’ve seen what McLaren has done this year, coming down to Red Bull [development] path and they are now ahead of us on such a path.”
Speaking to reporters, the team’s director of trackside engineering, Andrew Shovlin, said: „We’ve had a lovely couple of years and we’re working really hard to get back to the front.”
When to watch Sunday’s race live on Sky Sports F1
- 4.30am: Grand Prix Sunday: Japanese GP Build-up*
- 6am: Japanese Grand Prix*
- 8am: Checked Flag: Japanese GP Reaction*
- 9am: Dead notebook
- 9.30 am: Japanese GP race replay
- 12pm: Japanese GB highlights
*Also in the Sky Sports main event
Watch the entire Japanese Grand Prix weekend live on Sky Sports F1. Stream F1 now on Sky Sports. You can cancel anytime
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