‘Slap on the wrist as Red Bull won fair and square’

Michelle Foster
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas W11

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas W11

Toto Wolff feels Mercedes wasn’t on its “A game” at the Abu Dhabi weekend, losing the final race of the campaign to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

For only the second time this season, Mercedes did not start a grand prix with one of its cars on pole position, that having gone to Verstappen.

The Dutchman followed up with an emphatic win on Sunday evening as, rather surprisingly, Mercedes didn’t once look capable of challenging the Red Bull driver.

He took the chequered flag 16s ahead of Valtteri Bottas with Lewis Hamilton a further 2.5s off the pace.

Wolff says it was a “slap on the wrist” for Mercedes who were lucky not to lose third to Alex Albon.

“You can see that everybody has weaknesses, and we weren’t on our A game this weekend,” the motorsport boss told Autosport.

“That’s simply a fact. Red Bull won fair and square.

“You can see that Albon also had a very good race, so they have a very good race car, and shows that when their car is in the right place, both drivers do a really good job.

“Probably Albon’s pace was quicker than us by the end. They could have been well ahead, and even worse for us.

“We’re leaving this race with a slap on the wrist.

“It wasn’t a great weekend for us. It was a car that has never let us down all year, maybe apart from this last weekend.”

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While the Austrian has revealed that Mercedes had to turn down the engines due to an MGU-K concern, he says tyre management also played a role in Bottas and Hamilton’s lack of pace.

Swapping to the hard tyres early in the race when the Safety Car came out, Mercedes were worried they wouldn’t go the distance, forcing both drivers to manage the tyres.

“Him and Lewis were looking after the tyres a lot, because it was not clear the hard would last until the end, and there was more pace in both of them,” Wolff said.

“You can see at the end, we saw through sector one, that our car wasn’t simply turning around five and six, and the last sector wasn’t great.

“We just simply had an understeery car all day today. We had a car that is good on Friday, but not good on Saturday. We tried both directions, weakened the rear, none of that helped.

“I think somehow we didn’t get it right.”

Sunday’s result doesn’t detract from what was once again an incredible season for Mercedes.

Winning all but four of the grands prix, the team romped to a seventh successive Constructors’ Championship title with 573 points to Red Bull’s 319.

They also wrapped up the 1-2 in the Drivers’ standings with Lewis Hamilton taking his record-equalling seventh title, 224 points ahead of Bottas.

It was the first time in F1 history that a team clinched seven successive championship doubles.

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