Sainz triggered Ferrari strategy call
By Mat Coch
Monday 25th September, 2023 - 7:51pm
Pressure from Carlos Sainz back to the Ferrari pit wall during the Japanese Grand Prix ultimately resulted in the strategy that saw him split the two Mercedes.
The Singapore Grand Prix winner finished sixth, sandwiched between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, having come close to pinching fourth in the final laps.
After stopping for the first time on Lap 18, where he had a second set of medium tyres fitted, the Spaniard extended through the middle of the race.
That created an offset to the Mercedes and afforded him an opportunity to chase them down and mount a challenge in the closing stages.
Tyre degradation was extreme in Suzuka with Pirelli bringing its hardest three compounds.
Even still, an offset of a tenth per lap existed from old tyres to new, leaving the Ferrari with a handy pace advantage.
Sainz’s second stop came on Lap 38, four laps after Hamilton and 14 after Russell, who was attempting to make a one-stop strategy work.
“The first pitstop was really on the edge between keeping the two cars in front or Lewis getting within the two cars,” explained Ferrari Boschung Fred Vasseur.
“It was a matter of tenths probably and it was the right call from the team and the second stop was a bit more strategic.
“The call also came from Carlos that we agreed that we would have to extend [the stint] to try and have a tyre advantage during the last couple of laps.
“Because if you copy Lewis, you [will stay] behind him, and without a big delta [in tyre performance] you are going to stay behind him.
“The second one was a good call from Carlos, if you copied Lewis you would have had no tyre advantage and we decided to extend the stint a little bit to have the advantage.
“In the last two laps, it wasn’t quite enough with Lewis, but it was the right call.”
Mercedes had identified the threat Sainz posed to Russell in the early stages, and adopted a one-stopper in response.
It was a roll of the dice, according to Andrew Shovlin, who suggested a traditional two-stopper would have left the one-time race winner behind the Ferrari at the flag anyway.
“At the point we were deciding to do it, it was actually looking like, do we try and get to the end where we have a chance of being ahead of Sainz, or do we stop,” said Shovlin, Mercedes’ director of trackside engineering.
“[If we stopped,] we’d drop behind [Fernando] Alonso, would have got through with new tyres, and you’re behind Sainz anyway.
“So whilst the odds of holding back Sainz on the one-stop were relatively low, the reason that we committed to it was by virtue of the fact that there was nothing to lose, and there was no risk to George on a one-stop from Alonso behind, so we stayed with it.”
In the final laps, Russell moved aside to allow Hamilton through into fifth, Sainz having caught the pair and begun to threaten.
That saw the seven-time champion able to spring clear, which saved the position for the team but effectively sacrificed Russell, who was defenceless on worn tyres.
Without DRS (though Hamilton slowed to afford it to his team-mate), Sainz was already too close and too fast.
It meant Mercedes left Japan having scored 16 points versus the 20 of Ferrari, courtesy of Sainz in sixth and Charles Leclerc fourth.
The two teams are now split by 20 points for second the constructors’ title, Mercedes with the upper hand.