In the 2023 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit, Red Bull and Max Verstappen asserted their dominance, with the Dutchman securing a commanding win in his impressive RB19 single-seater. What set Max apart was his impressive pace even on worn tires, often matching or surpassing the performance of others on fresh sets. The Japanese Grand Prix was essentially his to lose, as he maintained his position from the start.
The Austrian side unfortunately easily fulfilled the expectations of everyone in the paddock after the first few races of the 2023 Formula One championship, clinching their sixth Constructors’ title with an impressive average of 39 points per race. Their closest rivals are trailing far behind, although Sergio Perez had opportunities to widen the points gap that went unutilized.
Scuderia Ferrari’s start in the current F1 campaign was rocky, but they are gradually coming to grips with the SF-23, even on circuits where front axle strength is crucial, narrowing the gap to Mercedes. The friction between George Russell and Lewis Hamilton during the weekend, requiring intervention from Toto Wolff, was an undesirable development.
The W14 faced some balance issues throughout the Suzuka weekend, but improvements may be seen in Qatar if the circuit demands maximum performance from all teams. The 2023 season’s most surprising development is that Aston Martin and now McLaren, two customer teams, have outperformed the Silver Arrows.
McLaren initially faced a tougher start than the Maranello team but is demonstrating remarkable consistency. Starting from Silverstone, McLaren has consistently been the second-fastest team, gaining 10 points over Ferrari, 14 over Mercedes, and a whopping 76 over Aston Martin.
While certain technical shortcomings remain, and McLaren doesn’t have the best power unit, they’ve invested heavily in design to transform their car to emulate Red Bull’s characteristics. The team, led by Andrea Stella, appears to be the only one to grasp the concept conceived by Adrian Newey and Pierre Wachè.
Suzuka serves as a benchmark at the season’s end, especially in assessing overall aerodynamic efficiency. The MCL60 is the closest to the RB19 regarding side loading and high-speed gear changes, allowing it to utilize Ferrari’s lighter wing setup for enhanced efficiency. Lando Norris, even more so than Oscar Piastri, had a stellar race, though the disadvantage persists with a full fuel load. Everyone must make progress in the winter to approach tire management skills like Red Bull’s.
Scuderia Ferrari engineers introduced a new modified floor in Japan, affecting various aspects from the conveyors to the diffuser. Comparing it to the season’s start, we notice changes in the outer edge region, where the SF-23 sacrificed a substantial surface to address porpoising, resulting in an inevitable loss of downforce.
The new floor had a positive impact on both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, making the SF-23 more predictable at Suzuka, a task that would have been daunting several months ago. Both drivers confirmed significant improvements during Friday’s free practice sessions. The forthcoming weekend in Qatar will be intriguing to affirm this upward trajectory, even on circuits where the SF-23’s load capabilities are not an ideal match.
In Qatar, the teams will face two significant unknowns: no inherited reference from 2022 since these cars have never raced at Losail. Additionally, there’s the Sprint Race, in which Verstappen might secure the Triple World Champion title even before the main event.
Aston Martin’s performance is spiraling downward despite Alonso’s valuable feedback. What McLaren is accomplishing now is what Aston did at the beginning of the year. However, the green car is no longer the same, as the team acknowledges their missteps and prepares for corrections by the end of 2023. Although development continues, their performance is markedly declining. In Miami, with a new rear wing, the AMR23 had closed the efficiency gap with Red Bull, a fact that seems almost surreal today.
Former Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso described the Japanese GP as encouraging, but the Astin Martin AMR23 lacks the speed to compete for a podium, especially given Suzuka’s diverse demands. Predicting the green car’s performance in the upcoming races will be challenging.
Their most recent podium was in the Netherlands, and Qatar doesn’t drastically differ in terms of aerodynamic demands. Furthermore, the TD018 technical directive regarding flexibility is now in effect. According to data from the Japanese Grand Prix, reported by F1 expert Giuliano Duchessa for formu1a.uno, the poorest performers on the straights among the top teams were Aston Martin and Mercedes after Singapore.