A dramatic first lap collision between Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez at the Japanese Grand Prix has raised concerns over the extent of damage to Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 car. The collision occurred as they passed four-wide with the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on the fast approach to Turn 1.
The incident set the scene for an exciting race at Suzuka, with Mercedes closely monitoring the condition of Hamilton’s car throughout.
Minor damage, major performance
Despite the dramatic collision, which saw parts of Hamilton’s car come off in the early stages of the race, Mercedes confirmed that the damage did not significantly affect the car’s performance.
Mercedes’ head of strategy Rosie Wait said that Hamilton “…did lose some small bits from his car, but the performance wasn’t significantly affected and crucially the balance of the car.
“So we didn’t need to adjust the strategy to compensate for that damage. More significant was the fact that both of our cars lost positions at the start after all that contact.
“We were already on the backfoot having qualified seventh and eighth, and we knew it was going to be a challenging race to get ahead of Ferrari, needing a few things to go our way, and the start certainly didn’t go our way.”
The team also noted that this minor damage didn’t require any adjustments to their race strategy. However, the collision did affect the starting positions of both Mercedes cars, as they had to navigate through the field after qualifying in seventh and eighth place.
Mercedes opted for different strategies for their drivers, with Hamilton favouring a two-stop strategy, while his team-mate George Russell opted for a one-stop strategy. Russell’s strategy ultimately didn’t pay off as he lost positions when his older tyres were challenged by rivals on fresher rubber, including Hamilton and Sainz.
Wait said: “Ultimately, we will never know. One of the beauties of sport is that you can never be sure what is going to happen. That’s why we love competing in it and people love watching it.
As to whether Mercedes could have kept both cars in front of Sainz, the team explained that the challenge was to fight the Ferraris. They admitted that they were already on the back foot due to their qualifying positions and difficult start. Their pace was neck-and-neck with the Ferraris, making it a challenging race to gain an advantage.
“Our real challenge that race, was trying to fight Ferrari.” confirmed Wait,
“We were on the backfoot having qualified behind, had a bad start and our pace was nip and tuck. Realistically even if we could have gotten one car ahead of one Ferrari, that represented a good result for us.
“We already had that with Lewis having undercut Sainz, so we needed to be careful not to compromise the gains we had already made.
“In this situation it would be lovely if there was a pause button where you could take a time out, and we could just chat and discuss with the drivers.
“We could have understood from George how the tyres are feeling and how likely it was to be able to maintain his pace as the race progressed. We could have spoken to both about the options for defending.”
The challenge of Suzuka
Mercedes highlighted the unique challenges of the Suzuka circuit. Although overtaking opportunities are limited, it’s not as unforgiving as the Singapore circuit. Around 50 per cent of overtaking at Suzuka takes place outside the DRS zone into Turn 1, providing some opportunities for position changes.
“Overtaking is difficult in Suzuka, but it is no Singapore,” said Wait,
“Whilst the vast majority of overtakes happen in the DRS zone into turn 1, there is still around 50 percent of overtakes that are just scattered around the rest of the track.”
Mercedes focused on protecting Hamilton
In retrospect, Mercedes considered whether they could have defended both drivers’ positions into Turn 1, but this would have risked compromising their positions on the rest of the circuit. The team’s primary focus shifted to protecting the gains made by Hamilton and Sainz, as George Russell faced significant challenges in maintaining his position.
“I am sure we could have worked together as a team to defend both of their positions into turn 1 but the question is: Would that have put us at risk in the rest of the circuit…?” says Rosie Wait.
“Had Sainz been able to overtake Lewis, George would have been a sitting duck. Given what we saw with how easily Piastri and Leclerc were able to get through George, the writing was really on the wall for him, and it was overwhelmingly likely that whatever we tried to do he wasn’t going to be able to defend those positions.
“Our focus therefore had to shift to making sure that we didn’t compromise the position that we had already gained to Sainz with Lewis.
“We did give it our best shot with the two cars, but ultimately this is not a circuit where that works, and George was always destined to finish in P7 unfortunately.”
In a race full of challenges and strategic decisions, Mercedes tried their best to navigate the complexities of racing at Suzuka. Despite the dramatic early collision between Hamilton and Perez, the team managed to minimise the impact on Hamilton’s car and secure a fifth place finish, perhaps the detriment of team mate George Russell.
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