Wolff: Ferrari lost the race with free practice decision

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. Paul Ricard July 2022.

Toto Wolff wearing sunglasses while entering a hot Paul Ricard paddock. France July 2022.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says Ferrari hamstrung themselves by not keeping a new set of medium tyres available for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ferrari made the surprising decision to switch Charles Leclerc onto the hard tyres during the race, despite a warning from the likes of Alpine who struggled in a major way on that compound.

Leclerc met a similar fate, powerless to defend against Max Verstappen and George Russell on the hard rubber, leading to Ferrari calling him in for a third pit-stop and a switch to soft tyres.

That left Leclerc down in P6, the position where he finished the race, having looked a strong contender for the win at one stage.

Asked by Sky Sports F1 if Mercedes had been left scratching their heads when Ferrari put Leclerc onto the hard tyres, Wolff replied: “I think they had no option. They had only hard and soft left and for the soft it was too early. So only the hard.

“I think the mistake happened Friday, or Saturday, not to carry over a new medium.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, chases Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes. Hungary, July 2022.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, on the tail of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes. Hungary, July 2022.

The decision certainly helped Mercedes’ cause though, Lewis Hamilton going from P7 on the grid to finish P2, while Russell crossed the line P3 to make it consecutive double podium results for the team.

Hamilton said if it had not been for a DRS failure in qualifying, which left him starting P7, he felt the pace was there for him to challenge for victory.

That is a belief Wolff shares.

“First of all, one must say George had a great qualifying session with pole and drove a super solid race,” said Wolff. “But he was always in that fight and therefore you’re utilising the tyres, you’re leaning on it a lot.

“And then he ran a little bit out of tyres in the second stint.

“But where Lewis came from is unbelievable. He was a little bit in the shadow, nobody really looked at him where he came from, and suddenly he was banging in times quicker than the leaders.

“And I think in qualifying if we wouldn’t have failed the DRS yesterday, I think we would have had a fun fight at the front for victory.”

Hamilton originally had track position over Verstappen, but Red Bull pulled off a successful undercut to get the Dutchman out ahead of Hamilton when he stopped three laps later.

Asked why Mercedes had not moved to cover off that strategy, Wolff said: “At that point they simply took a big risk, or they took the risk to undercut us and to go very early on the tyre.

“It wasn’t yet clear whether it was a one-stop or two-stop and for us it was just simply too early and they gambled, they took the risk, and at the end the tyre lives were extended more than we thought.”

It was then pointed out to Wolff that Russell had effectively mirrored Verstappen’s strategy, yet he finished over 12 seconds behind the Red Bull driver despite starting from pole, while Verstappen launched from P10.

Wolff, though, said this simply shows the level Verstappen and Red Bull are operating at.

“I think you need to acknowledge Max in the Red Bull is just simply, at the moment – I think also Charles with the Ferrari – ahead of everybody else,” he said. “I don’t know how much today.

“And I think with Lewis and Budapest, that’s a success story. And I think we lost that race with him yesterday.”

Nonetheless, Mercedes certainly delivered their strongest showing in qualifying and race trim of the season so far in Hungary, an encouraging sign as they head into the summer break before returning to action in Belgium.

Wolff, though, is keen for the team not to get ahead of themselves just yet.

“At least we have a result we can work with,” said Wolff. “We had a really bad Friday, so we know what not to do. So we’ll do the opposite.

“But Spa is very different. So let’s not celebrate yet that we are there because we aren’t yet.”