Mercedes’ George Russell reckons that the Suzuka Circuit has emphasised the car’s lack of pace in a straight line.
The W13 has had fundamental flaws since the beginning of the season, with Mercedes having to accept that they simply got it wrong under the new technical regulations.
The unique chassis design has led to poor straight-line speed and, at most racetracks, they are able to adjust the set-up accordingly.
At circuits that require more downforce, their speed on full throttle has not really mattered, and on tracks with longer straights, while they have struggled, the Silver Arrows have been able to remove all the downforce and reduce the deficit as much as possible.
The tough figure-of-eight track necessitates a mix of both downforce and straight-line speed, so the more downforce the German team put on the car, the more they affect their already adverse pace away from the corners.
Russell and Sir Lewis Hamilton battled their way through the first two qualifying sessions to make it into Q3, during which the seven-time champion set a lap good enough for sixth.
The 24-year-old will start Sunday’s race eighth, and while the car did not feel awful, the eight-time champions’ weakness on the straights is as apparent as ever.
“I mean, the car was feeling okay in all honesty,” Russell told Lawrence Barretto after the session.
“Not perfect, but not as far off as the lap time showed, it was the feeling from within.
“We’re losing a huge amount of lap time down the straight compared to our rivals, that’s kind of been the case all season.
“But I think this is the first circuit where you have long straights, but also have high downforce.
“Normally, when you look at the circuits with the long straights – Spa, Monza, even Silverstone – where you’re running low downforce, and the high downforce circuits – Monaco, Budapest, Zandvoort, Singapore – they have short straights.
“And you don’t really see that deficit in the straight-line speed, but here, that weakness has truly been exposed.”
Russell is optimistic that he will not fall back, and he would like to finish ahead of the Alpine pair of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, will start the race fifth and seventh, respectively.
“We should have enough pace to not be too worried from behind, but I could be wrong,” he theorised.
“We’re looking forward, we want to be in that fight with Ferrari and Red Bull but, ultimately, they’re probably five tenths too quick for us this weekend.
“We need to make sure we finish ahead of Alpine, but it’s certainly not where we want to be.”
Mercedes are third in the Constructors’ Standings, 66 points adrift of Ferrari.
Charles Leclerc qualified second behind Max Verstappen, with Carlos Sainz in third for the Scuderia, who now look to have a little more authority over the battle for second.