Despite claiming pole position, Toto Wolff is concerned by Mercedes’ “enormous” loss of lap time to Red Bull in less than six months between visits to Imola.
The 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was the race at which Mercedes clinched their seventh consecutive Constructors’ World Championship with a one-two finish.
Since that November 1st contest, Red Bull have raised their game and become a serious challenger to the team that have dominated F1 since 2014.
And yet team principal Wolff, who, like everyone at Mercedes, has insisted Red Bull are now favourites for the early race victories this term, still believes Hamilton is only on pole for round two of the season because of a Max Verstappen error on his final flying lap.
The Austrian thinks Mercedes are making progress compared to where they were in pre-season testing, but is still alarmed by what he perceives to be a big shift in supremacy.
“The pole was a surprise because at the moment we do not have the quickest car,” said Wolff, who will see Verstappen and Sergio Perez, P2 and P3 respectively, ‘ganging up’ on Hamilton at the start with Valtteri Bottas having qualified only eighth.
“It was so close and Max, without the mistake, would have been on pole.
“But the loss compared to last year is just enormous – we were six tenths ahead and now we are two tenths behind. So we need to scratch our heads and just try to find the performance.
“It’s a quicker car than in Bahrain. I think we have got the car in a better balance window, that’s the main reason for the improvement. We had some drivability concerns in Bahrain and we are sorting that out – slowly we are getting there.
“It’s a big advantage for them because not only two Red Bulls behind, but Perez is starting on soft tyres so they can do two different strategies.
“Valtteri has to make his way through the soft-tyred runners, which he will and can, but I think we are a little bit on the back foot.”