BusyFormula #043: Suzuka is Mercedes’ best shot at a race win

After eight consecutive constructors’ titles with the only driver who’s won a race in each of his seasons, it’s no surprise that many expect Mercedes to win at least one race this season.

And as we saw at Zandvoort, Mercedes came really close to winning before a strategy dilemma took the win away from them. As we get closer to the end of the season, one question becomes louder. At which track will Mercedes get their first win of the season? Personally, I think their best chance is at Suzuka and here’s why:

Track layout

Suzuka is considered one of the most challenging F1 circuits, and turns one to seven are enough to prove this. This means drivers with tremendous experience are more likely to know how to save lap time, set up overtakes and avoid crashes. Lewis Hamilton has the most wins at Suzuka (four to be exact), so he definitely knows his way around this track.

Teams haven’t raced at Suzuka for the last two years, so there’ll surely be a gap in the data they can rely on, though simulators will help. In such a context, the more experienced drivers usually learn and adapt faster. However, it’s not just about the drivers. The cars play a huge role in getting the win, and we have to consider how they’ll behave at this track.

While Suzuka is a fairly fast track with some power-hungry sections, the Mercedes has shown significant improvement at tracks that demand a lot of straight-line speed. Hamilton qualified fifth at Monza, half a second away from Leclerc’s pole position time.

He was also four-tenths of a second off the fastest race lap. With Suzuka having less distance for Red Bull and Ferrari to flex their straight-line speed, Mercedes may have an easier time staying in their pit window. Moreover, cars don’t lose that much time in a pit stop at this track, and with only 53 laps of racing, pulling away becomes much harder. It’s also no secret that overtaking isn’t easy at Suzuka, so track position is critical.

Weather and track conditions

At Suzuka, temperatures can fluctuate massively, so a one-stop strategy can quickly turn into a two-stopper due to high tire degradation. Cars that start on the first two rows where this switch becomes necessary can easily get caught out, as we saw in Zandvoort.

In addition, Suzuka often gets rain during a Grand Prix weekend, and if this happens in the earlier sessions as it has in the past, teams may have to work with less data than they usually get from practice sessions. Such scenarios can mix things up in many different ways.

Alternate arguments

Some would say that Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is where the Silver Arrows have the best chance of winning since it has little straight-line running and has favored Mercedes a lot in the past. Even George Russell concurs, but last season’s United States GP showed that Mercedes can be defeated at this track even when they opt for a more aggressive strategy.

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is also known to be quite bumpy, a characteristic that has been a nightmare for the W13 at previous tracks this season. It’s also more overtake-friendly than Suzuka, an attribute I believe would make a win more difficult for Mercedes.

I think they are much better off trying to steal track position through undercuts and overcuts at tracks that don’t favor overtaking than battling. Away from the debate about COTA’s Mercedes-friendliness, one factor could undo any good work done by Mercedes at Suzuka.

Suzuka’s layout makes it quite incident-prone, so there’s a likelihood of seeing the safety car out on track during this year’s Japanese grand Prix. The first sector of Suzuka is a magnet for lap one incidents, so if Mercedes ends up in the pack like they have for most of the season, we could see a repeat of the Spa tangle, the Barcelona puncture or the Silverstone crash.

And since we are getting closer to the end of the season, reliability can start biting harder as many car parts get closer to their expiry date. This increases the chances of a car stopping on track, and the resultant virtual or full safety car can further complicate race strategy, as we saw in Zandvoort. Nevertheless, these possibilities could also work in Mercedes’ favor.

Could Mercedes win elsewhere?

The way I see it, Interlagos and Abu Dhabi are both too power-hungry for Mercedes. Also, Mexico’s high altitude is known to be a problem for the Mercedes (and many other cars), and it also leans more toward tracks that favor Red Bull and Ferrari’s straight-line speed.

One last factor to consider is the imminence of the title honors. As the trophies get more within reach of a specific team, there might be instances where they play it safe and settle for a runner-up place in a race rather than risking a DNF or major points loss.

Last season went down to the wire, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this season, so it’ll be interesting to see whether those in the lead keep their elbows out until the end.

Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.

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