Ferrari introduced a new floor aiming to correct issues with tyre degradation and life, an element of Formula 1 racing that the Italians are lagging behind their competitors in.
The result is that whilst they might have a faster car on pure pace, the ability to maximise that advantage suffers as tyres go deeper into their stints allowing their rivals to close the gap or overtake them.
However, in Japan, the Prancing Horse seemingly showed progress compared to Mercedes as they didn’t slip into the clutches of the Silver Arrows despite the high-speed cornering demands of the circuit which degrades tyres faster than slower-speed tracks.
“I think it’s too early to tell [if degradation issues have been fixed],” Sainz said to media ahead of the 2023 Qatar GP. “I’m always very, very cautious in these aspects, especially because the only big change was the floor in Japan.
“We know the floor wasn’t a huge thing in any sense. So I think it’s still early days to judge whether our tyre wear situation or degradation has got better.
“I prefer to take more samples, more examples, to see if it’s really the case. So six races left and we will see if the good trend continues, and I definitely hope so.”
Upgrade not why Leclerc was quicker than Sainz
Charles Leclerc had the upper-hand around the Suzuka International Racing Course as he out-qualified Sainz by 0.308s and went on to finish the race 6.2 seconds up the road from the Spaniard.
Despite that, he insisted that the difference between himself and the Monegasque was not due to a new floor that Ferrari introduced for the race, but was down to an experiment with the set-up that aims to improve his future prospects in F1 races.
“I think it [the upgrade] has nothing to do with it [Leclerc being faster],” Sainz continued. “I really think Charles enjoyed a good weekend in Japan. From my side, I got a bit lost on Friday trying different stuff on the car on the setup.
“It’s the approach that I’ve had this season. Normally I choose certain Fridays of each season, and this season, I’ve chosen certain Fridays to try different mechanical settings and items on the car to try and make it a bit more drivable and a bit more likeable to me.
“I chose Japan as one weekend to do that, unfortunately, everything I tried to do didn’t work and by the time I was in qualifying, I had lost a bit of time.”
Sainz’s slower Japanese GP part of long term gains
Sainz was pipped to the finish line by just one second from Hamilton, after Mercedes appeared initially indecisive about switching their drivers around for track position.
Yet despite the frustration of missing out on extra points by seemingly one more lap, the Spanish driver is hopeful of the long-term prospects from his Japanese GP set-up quest.
“I know what to do for the for the next weekend [Qatar GP],” Sainz concluded. “It’s an approach that I’ve been taking this year that maybe doesn’t pay off in the short term, in the race that you’re competing in, but it pays off for the medium to long term of the year.
“I chose Japan because it has a lot of high-speed corners. So there’s a lot of things to learn before, for example, the high-speed of Austin [Circuit of the Americas] and the high-speed of Qatar.
“That’s why I chose Japan to test all that stuff and now I know what what can work and what cannot work here.”