Toto Wolff has confessed Mercedes have to hope the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz crash with the Red Bull pair of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen if they are to claim a first race win of the season in Azerbaijan. George Russell starts P6 for Mercedes with team-mate Lewis Hamilton in eighth for Sunday’s race in Baku.
The Silver Arrows have not managed a single win all season while Hamilton has just one podium, with Russell having accomplished two third-place finishes. The eight-time constructors’ champions have struggled badly with porpoising under the revamped technical regulations and are much slower than their rivals.
Leclerc starts on pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with fith fifth-placed Russell almost a second-and-a-half slower than the Monegasque in qualifying. And team principal Wolff acknowledged there’s still a massive pace disparity between Mercedes and title protagonists Ferrari and Red Bull despite ongoing work to enhance the W13.
He told Sky Sports F1: “The position we expected was third quickest on the road. That’s in terms of position but the gap is big. It’s a long lap time and we’re lacking pretty much everywhere. I wish I don’t have to look at these kind of overlays in the future anymore.
“If you look at it through rose-tinted glasses you can say hopefully four of them crash out in Turn One and then you can win the race. On pure pace, it’s realistic to finish fifth and sixth. Absolutely strategy can play a big role. We can recover good positions if you’re on the right strategy. We can gamble because when you’re the hunter it’s a different situation.”
Hamilton said despite Mercedes’ struggles that there is “lots to look forward to” ahead of “a tricky and chaotic race” in which there is “lots that can happen”. The seven-time F1 world champion added: “We’re making lots of changes but we always come out with the same conclusion which is most often bouncing, which loses us a lot of performance.
“And then all the performance is when you get the car low. We just say we’ll take a beating with our backs and necks and get the car as low as possible to get performance. I went lower and it’s bouncing a little bit more than the other car. But we’re still there, we’re just very slow on the straights. It might be a struggle in the race but we’re going to give it everything and I hope maybe we’ll have better race pace, who knows.”
While Russell added: “The car felt good but it’s pretty shocking when you cross the line to see you’re one-and-a-half seconds behind pole position. We expect so much from ourselves and we’re working so hard to bring more performance.
“Definitely this weekend has brought out the strengths and the weaknesses from all of us. To be honest it truly is just not going fast enough. I can barely see the braking zones, it’s so bumpy down those straights.
“It feels awful from within. Through the corners the car feels good and so we know it’s not a balance thing. It’s more fundamentally we don’t have the downforce and we’re balancing a lot of limitations to try and get the downforce. We know there’s a lot there but we don’t know how to extract it.”