Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin believes Ferrari has bridged the tyre degradation deficit that previously separated the two teams.
Ferrari began the latest regulation cycle with the fastest package but has struggled to get a handle on a capricious SF-23 car.
The Italian marque’s prospects had previously been stymied by excessive degradation issues thwarting it from converting strong qualifying displays.
Since conducting extensive tests, however, Ferrari has converted successive pole positions at Monza and Singapore into a podium and the only non-Red Bull victory.
Despite Mercedes managing to split the two scarlet red cars at Suzuka, Ferrari still proceeded to outscore the German marque for the third consecutive weekend.
Subsequently, the Maranello-based camp has reduced the deficit to Mercedes to only 20 points with six rounds remaining in 2023.
Asked where he sees the relative performance of the two cars heading into the closing stretch of the season, Shovlin assessed: “It’s difficult to know because this [Suzuka] has been an unusual track.
“We’ve not performed well, they’ve [Ferrari] bought an update. So there’s too many variables to really work out exactly where they sit. The gap wasn’t big today.
“We’re looking at things that we can do in the next few races to try and bring a bit of performance.”
Shovlin asserts that Mercedes can no longer count on its car being lighter on its tyres to beat Ferrari to the runners-up spot. Instead, the British engineer insists the team must unlock more pace from its W14 charger.
“I think it’s going to be tight, but I’d rather be 20 points ahead than 20 points behind,” he continued. “But as I said, fundamentally it will be how much performance can we bring.
“I think the quickest car will win over the next six races or whatever we’ve got remaining, so we need to try and make ourselves the quicker of those two.”
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day. –
Expanding on Mercedes being unable to utilise a clear tyre advantage over Ferrari in Japan, Shovlin explained: “Part of it is linked to the temperatures. Some of that deg you get is just as the tyres get hotter and hotter over the first eight laps or so.
“I think the performance deficit that was there in qualifying, where we have a bit less performance through the faster corners, is the same thing that’s costing us in the race.
“I think at this track, it’s just about how much grip you’ve got in the fast corners. A lot of that will be downforce. We do look like we’re a little bit behind in that regard here. They did bring an updated floor, so maybe they’ve moved forward.
“I think if we look at some of our recent tracks, that advantage we have on degradation is not as evident now in the season as it was in the earlier races.”
Both Ferrari and Mercedes were eclipsed in Japan by McLaren, who managed to score a first double podium of the year behind the race-winning Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
McLaren’s pace at Suzuka didn’t come as a surprise to Mercedes, though, with Shovlin acknowledging that the Woking-based squad have been strong at high-speed circuits since introducing a heavily revised car in July.
“Well, I think the update they [McLaren] did in Singapore didn’t look massive there, but that’s all low-speed corners, here [Japan] it’s all high-speed, and that’s what we saw them get very good at when they did the previous update in Austria,” he highlighted.
“So right now they’ve just got a better car.”
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