Toto Wolff fears Mercedes don’t stand a chance against Max Verstappen

Michelle Foster
Toto Wolff, Mercedes, showing his serious face. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff showing his serious face. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Although Max Verstappen will line up P6 on Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix grid, Toto Wolff fears the Red Bull driver has win number 10 of this season in the bag such was his advantage in qualifying.

Verstappen set the pace in Friday evening’s qualifying at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit as he blitzed the competition with Charles Leclerc in second place over eight-tenths down.

He, however, will start down in sixth place due to a gearbox penalty, one Wolff reckons he’ll easily overcome.

Toto Wolff wary of Max Verstappen’s pace

“Verstappen is in a league of his own again and behind it’s very close,” he told Sky Deutschland.

But there is a light in what has been a 19-month-long dark tunnel for Mercedes for Wolff convinced Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton posting the fourth fastest time in qualifying, closer than they were a year ago.

“We were a lot slower here last year, so we’ve made a step forward now,” he insisted. “We don’t yet know if our new parts will work, so we hope that it will drier in the coming days so that we can then gain insights.”

The team boss was full of praise for Mercedes’ strategy team who managed to get both drivers into Q3 in what was a trying session given the track continued to dry out throughout qualifying.

Wolff accepts if he had been making the calls, it would’ve been a very different story.

“I like to get involved in the strategy discussions,” he said, “but I would have done everything wrong in qualifying. Our strategy team did a really good job.

“We want to finish with a good race going into the summer break.” recommends

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Weighing in on the decision to run different rear wing configurations with George Russell going for a higher downforce choice and ending up seven-tenths slower than Hamilton, Wolff said: “They ran very different rear wing configurations, and you can see that Lewis is just able to extract more performance from it.

“[George] has a bit of a barn door on the back, and that can be advantageous for tyre performance on Sunday. But it didn’t help [in qualifying] so we need to assess why it didn’t.

“P3 [on the grid] is good, and you can see that it is pretty bunched up.”

Mercedes will have a reset on Saturday which is a standalone sprint day with the shootout for the grid followed by a late-afternoon race.

Read next: Winners and losers from the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying