The mighty Mercedes team who for 8 years conquered all before them, looked forlorn during qualifying for the Formula One 2022 Japanese GP. Lewis Hamilton just managed to split the Alpines finishing P6 behind Ocon but Fernando Alonso was less then half a tenth behind the British driver. The Silver Arrows look as though they face another seminal moment similar to their outing this year in Spa-Francorchamps.
George Russell was over a second second slower in P8 than the pole sitter Max Verstappen which ranks Mercedes as far behind the lead qualifying car as their worst performances in the 2022 season.
Mercedes will lose their constructors’ title, most likely in Austin, which they have retained for 8 seasons since 2014.
One of Mercedes worst 2022 performances
Hamilton’s best lap in Q3 was nearly a full second down on Max Verstappen’s pole position-winning time, with Russell another tenth shy placing them in a very tight midfield for the start of the 36th running of the Grand Prix in Japan.
Lewis who has won in Suzuka on 5 occasions seemed downbeat when speaking to the press following the session.
“We knew coming to this circuit that we wouldn’t be competing for the front row or the win – the Red Bull and Ferrari are in a different league here, and we have some fundamental limitations with our car.
“It feels good to drive and it was a clean session for me, but we are just a long way off in terms of the ultimate pace. We are pushing as hard as we can and it feels strong in the corners, but we are losing on the straights at this circuit.
For [the race], I hope we will be a little bit closer, and maybe the weather will play a role, too. I don’t think we can race the cars in front in a straight fight – but I hope we can beat the Alpines and my focus is simply on scoring a better result than we managed last weekend.”
W13 going backwards?
Last weekend in Is Singapore Hamilton struggled to score points finishing just P9 and Russell was the final classified runner at the chequered flag.
The other Mercedes driver was also unhappy with the car’s performance during qualifying.
“P8 is not where we hoped to be qualifying here in Suzuka. We didn’t expect to quite be in the fight with Red Bull and Ferrari, but we are a long way off them, and in fact had our own close battle today with Alpine.”
“We know that our car has a lot of drag and on circuits like this, where you need a lot of downforce but also to be slippery on the straights, we tend to lose out. That’s something we are working towards correcting for next year, but it takes time to do so,” explained Russell.
Hamilton wants car redesign for 2023
The Mercedes W13 car has proven to be fundamentally limiteds Hamilton has argued before and within the team the battle over the direction for 2023 continues.
Hamilton believes the technical team should abandon the ‘no sidepod’ concept and almost start again with a ‘blank piece of paper’.
Of course given the most significant changes in the regulations that have hurt Mercedes are not occurring again for 2023, the next year’s Mercedes will carry over parts from the W13 car.
Yet James Allison believes the fundamental 2022 car design has the potential to win races, though after qualifying in Japan maybe Lewis Hamilton has a point.
Hamilton is prepared to take the risk on an all ne car given his recent comments on sticking around in F1 for longer than the final year on his contract in 2023.
A longer term view Hamilton believes will give him another shot at winning the elusive 8th World Title.
Race pace may be better
The trackside boss Adrew Shovlin had this to add following qualifying.
“We’ve been struggling with the car in the dry today; the race work in the morning wasn’t bad but the single lap was proving difficult, and the tyres just weren’t biting.
“We’re losing a lot of time on the straights, but the corners are not especially strong either. By qualifying the balance was in a reasonable place but the lap time just wasn’t coming. We stayed on the higher rear wing levels as the degradation in the morning was very high and there is a growing risk of rain in tomorrow’s race.
“In both of those situations, the wing level should be a benefit. It will not be a benefit getting past the Alpine cars, though, which we need to do early if we stand any chance of getting into a race with Red Bull and Ferrari,” concluded Shovlin.
Lewis Hamilton dismissed the notion he had any chance of winning the Japanese GP, so with four races to go after Japan, the Hamilton record of a win in every year he has raced in Formula One gets ore and more remote.
It shows you how close the battle was for pole that Karun is analysing THREE drivers at the same time at the SkyPad 💪 pic.twitter.com/nsx5t7ITQg
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) October 8, 2022