Scuderia Ferrari had a solid weekend at Suzuka. The performance of the SF-23 doesn’t quite match the best, and besides having to concede to Red Bull, who bounced back after an unfortunate episode in Singapore, they must also contend with the competitiveness of McLaren and face an untamed Mercedes. Although Brackley’s team’s weekend wasn’t perfect, during the race, Charles Leclerc was the only one to outperform both W14 cars. In contrast, Carlos Sainz found himself entangled in a flawed strategy that prevented the Spaniard from beating Lewis Hamilton, despite having a faster pace than the Briton.
The much-anticipated test of “high-speed cornering capability” wasn’t passed. The SF-23’s negative characteristics emerge prominently. The setup adjustments and the diligent effort by “the two Carlos” driving the Italian cars have yielded minimal improvement. Nevertheless, it can be said that a small piece of progress was achieved in Japan, considering that despite the difficulties faced, the gaps to the front were more contained.
The Modena-based cars continue to struggle with tire degradation, a factor that naturally limits their performance during long runs. Once again, it was a defensive Grand Prix where the drivers of the Scuderia had to focus more on tire management than they would have preferred. Under this aspect, however, it appears that the team has found a certain balance, resulting in a more comfortable approach in this challenging context.
Japanese GP 2023: Ferrari, Tire Degradation in Line with Competitors
At the start of the race, the choice was made to use the Medium tires. The primary strategy was to start with this compound, switch to another Pirelli yellow-banded tire around the twentieth lap, and then finish with the Hard tire. As we know, all the teams retained at least one set of this new tire. Verstappen, in fact, had two sets of Soft tires, one less than all the others.
Among the few to start with different tires was Aston Martin. Both their drivers began with the red-banded tire in an attempt to gain positions at the start. They were aware that they had less degradation despite limitations in qualifying. In the early laps after the initial Safety Car, Max began pushing and managed to build a safe gap over the two McLarens. The Ferrari cars, however, managed to stay close to the McLarens.
Quantitatively evaluating the first stint, we see that the Dutchman put up an average lead of around 6 tenths per lap over Norris’s MCL60. Regarding the red Ferrari SF-23 cars of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the gap for each lap exceeded a second; to be precise, it was 1.12 seconds per lap. Lewis Hamilton’s lap times on the Medium tire in his initial race phase were on par with Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso.
Piastri was the first to pit, switching to the white-banded Pirelli tire at the fourteenth lap. McLaren’s strategists may have decided at that point to differentiate the strategies between the two drivers. Norris could continue with a single stop while Oscar Piastri went for a double. Max Verstappen made his stop at the seventeenth lap, fitting the Medium tire and coming out ahead of the Australian by about 4 seconds.
The McLaren driver executed an undercut that could have been potent, but due to traffic and a slower pace, he couldn’t overtake Max. In response, Red Bull decided to go for two stops. By fitting a second set of Mediums, like the others, they were forced to make an extra stop to meet the rule of using at least two types of slick tires.
Hamilton, who was battling on track with his teammate, also stopped at the seventeenth lap. The two Mercedes were far behind the Ferrari pair. On the Hard tire, Lewis enjoyed an excellent pace in the initial laps. The two SF-23 cars also made their stops in the same functioning window as their direct competitors, indicating that tire degradation on the compound was in line with other teams. Between the eighteenth and nineteenth laps, the Ferrari drivers changed tires, thus obliging themselves to a double stop.
Russell maximized the opening stint on the Medium tire, only entering the pit lane at the twenty-fifth lap. With the Hard tire, after a few laps, he closed in on his teammate, whose tires were nine laps fresher. This factor allowed him to attempt a single stop while taking good care of the tire. Below, we present the tire situation at the twenty-ninth lap, just before the start of the second round of pit stops, in a graph to clarify the situation.
At the thirty-fifth lap, the cycle of pit stops began again. This time, Charles Leclerc was the first to come in, switching to the Hard tire to reach the race’s conclusion. The slightly early stop also aimed to attempt an undercut against Piastri, who, in turn, reacted by pitting at the following lap for a new set of Hards, exiting ahead of the Ferrari driver. Norris re-entered on the thirty-eighth lap with the same tire as his teammate. It’s worth noting that McLaren drivers each had two sets of new Hard tires.
At the thirty-eighth lap, Lewis Hamilton also made his stop, effectively trying an undercut on the Ferrari number 55. However, in the next lap, he stopped to fit a new set of Hards. Nevertheless, the Spaniard exited behind the Mercedes number 44. In this case, the red cars were forced to use the M-M-H strategy rather than M-H-H since they had two sets of new yellow tires for each driver and only one set of white tires.
George Russell, with a single stop, was adeptly used by the team to act as a bottleneck for Ferrari. Following closely behind another car for several laps puts a strain on the tires. Suzuka’s layout significantly challenges the tires from a thermal perspective.
Quantifying the final stage of the race, we see that on the Hard tire and with a lighter car, the gap between Red Bull and McLaren was reduced and stood at around 2 tenths. It’s also worth mentioning that Verstappen had a sufficient lead, allowing him to make an extra stop.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz suffered a slightly greater gap on the white tire. In this case, the delta was 1.3 seconds per lap for car number 16 and 1.1 seconds per lap for car number 55. Hamilton was matching the Ferrari’s lap times, while Alonso significantly increased his pace in the final phase.
Above, we present a chart summarizing the entire Japanese Grand Prix. We see how Red Bull sets the pace, with McLaren consistently ranking as the second-strongest team. Ferrari and Mercedes are close, but the red cars can take pride in being the third force ahead of the Brackley team. Aston Martin trails by 1.3 seconds and is very close to Alpine, which ranks fifth this weekend at the Suzuka circuit.
Source: Alessandro Arcari and Niccoló Arnerich for FUnoanalisitecnica