Toto Wolff explained Ferrari have been able to give Max Verstappen a “run for his money” at low-downforce tracks this season, which is an “interesting” difference compared to their struggles at higher downforce.
Ferrari came into the Italian Grand Prix weekend off the back of a difficult run at Zandvoort, with Carlos Sainz taking fifth place in mixed conditions and Charles Leclerc retiring – though the Scuderia looked uncompetitive all weekend.
But this time around, with the car having a radically different setup, Sainz put his car on pole at Ferrari’s home race, with Leclerc set to line up third on Sunday – proof in Wolff’s eyes that cars can perform differently at different circuits.
Toto Wolff: ‘Spectacular’ Ferrari pace remains to be seen over a full race
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
With Ferrari having taken a 1-3 in qualifying, with Red Bull’s Verstappen sandwiched in between the Scuderia drivers on the grid, Sunday represents a fantastic chance for the team to take the fight to the runaway World Championship leader.
Given how far away from his benchmark they were last weekend, the Mercedes team boss took stock of how teams can change from race to race – and if Mercedes aren’t in the running for a win on Sunday, he hopes the Scuderia can earn a home victory in front of their adoring fans at Monza.
“The Ferrari long run was spectacular, Verstappen as always, and then it was us so I think we should believe if we can race these guys in the front, and then stay there and fight, it will be good,” Wolff explained to media including PlanetF1.com after qualifying.
“It’s quite interesting because when you look at the weekend in the Netherlands and the higher downforce weekends, they’re not very competitive, and then you come here and they are giving it a big blast and Verstappen a run for the money.
“Whether they can really translate that in race pace tomorrow over the whole race needs to be seen.
“I think, for me, Verstappen is still the favourite for the race because overall the car has just been so good and he has been faultless, but it would be good for Formula 1 I guess if they give him a hard time and seeing a Ferrari win in Monza, if it can’t be us, then it should be Ferrari.”
As for his own team, George Russell will line up fourth on Sunday and Lewis Hamilton eighth, with the seven-time World Champion explaining that “there’s nothing easy” about his car at the moment.
But despite adjustments having been made to the W14, Wolff explained that Mercedes are towards the lower end of the top speed standings on the grid – a key facet around Monza in particular.
“I think the car is too draggy for this kind of high speed racetrack – when you look at the top speeds we’re bottom end pretty much everywhere,” he revealed.
“You can still be high drag and not fast on the straight and still pull out a good lap time, but overall generally I think we have been too draggy for Monza definitely.”
Despite that however, Mercedes have still made big strides compared to where they were this time last season in relation to the front of the field, with Russell less than four tenths behind Sainz’s pole time on Saturday.
While Wolff still wishes his team would be the ones at the front, he takes a small crumb of comfort from knowing they have reduced their deficit over time.
“I mean, we were 1.2 seconds off last year, we knew that low downforce wouldn’t suit us after Spa or even Baku,” he said.
“The car should be quick everywhere, but these were the problematic tracks for us and considering the time gap from our quicker car to the front guys, I think we have more reasons to be, I wouldn’t say happy, but to be satisfied.”