[Mercedes fears it has lost race-day F1 tyre edge over Ferrari
In the early phase of the season, the Mercedes would have the edge in races because its W14 car was much less harsh on its tyres than the Ferrari SF-23.
However, as Ferrari has made gains in understanding why its 2023 challenger was so hard on its rubber early on, its race pace has improved dramatically.
And with the two teams now locked in a fight for runners-up in the constructors’ championship, the switch in car characteristic could prove critical as their fight plays out over the remaining six races of the campaign.
At the recent Japanese Grand Prix, where tyre degradation was a critical factor in deciding the pace on Sunday, Ferrari showed how on top of things it was as Charles Leclerc finished ahead of the Mercedes lead car of Lewis Hamilton.
This was a result that Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believed proved that Ferrari was no longer behind with its management of tyre degradation.
Shovlin reckoned that Mercedes’ lack of performance over the Japanese GP weekend was down to a simple lack of downforce.
“I think the performance deficit that was there in qualifying, where we have a bit less performance through the fast corners, it’s the same thing that was costing us in the race,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
“I think really this track is just about how much grip you have got in the fast corners. A lot of that will be downforce. And we do look like we were a little bit behind in that regard.
“Ferrari did bring an updated floor. So maybe they’ve moved forward. But I think if we look at some of our recent tracks, that advantage we have with degradation, it’s not as evident now in the season as it was in the earlier races.”
Speaking at the Japanese GP, Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur acknowledged that his squad had made good gains in improving its tyre management considering what it showed in the race.
“It’s sure if you have a look at the first couple of races of the season, the degradation or the tyre management, were not always our biggest skill,” he said.
“Coming to Suzuka with this track temp, we were a bit at risk. But at the end of the day, I think we did a good job on this side.
“The race was under control; the strategy was well managed. We did well. A clear step forward compared to the first part of the season.”