Mercedes boss Toto Wolff tried to look beyond the “pain” of defeat to Max Verstappen in Austin, claiming the upgraded Mercedes W14 was the “clear” fastest car.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was unable to keep up with Red Bull’s Verstappen in the sprint, but Grand Prix Sunday proved a different story as Hamilton applied late pressure on Verstappen in the battle for victory.
With Mercedes putting Hamilton on medium tyres for the final stint versus Verstappen’s hards, Hamilton reduced the margin to 2.2 seconds, but it was not enough to deny Verstappen career win number 50, while Hamilton was disqualified post-race, along with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, due to excessive wear on the skid pads.
Toto Wolff declares Mercedes fastest in Austin
Before this verdict was announced, Wolff said it was “painful” to see that victory opportunity end with a P2, but took great comfort in the fact that the upgraded W14 was on form at the Circuit of The Americas.
So much so that Wolff saw it as “clearly” the fastest challenger out there, as he now looks ahead in the belief that further strong tracks are to come as Mercedes chase a first win of F1 2023.
“The upgrade is working,” Wolff told Sky F1.” I think a superb step, which was the direction that we were hoping that would actually make it sick more and it does. And directionally, it’s I think a very, very good sign.
“We need to take the podium. I hate losing races and the whole team is in pain, but this is a circuit where a few races [ago] we wouldn’t have performed, because it’s those fast, sweepy corners. We were miserable in Suzuka.
“We were well here, the car was there, we had the pace, I think the quickest car on track clearly, and that is the positive we need to take and stay humble, not take this pace for granted.
“Now we go to a few tracks that should make the car happier.”
Hamilton has not had the best of relationships with Mercedes’ two most recent challengers, the W13 and W14, though Wolff said the seven-time World Champion was feeling improvement with this upgrade straight out of the blocks at COTA.
“Straight from the get-go in Free Practice 1 Lewis said ‘I feel the rear now, I feel downforce, it’s become more predictable’, there’s more confidence,” Wolff declared.
Toto Wolff explains Mercedes strategy decision
Verstappen said post-race that Mercedes could have taken the win if their strategy was stronger, the team having somewhat got caught between a one and two-stop for Hamilton.
Having tried to extend Hamilton’s opening stint by four laps to create a one-stop opportunity, the Brit was struggling to hang on and even though Verstappen had now moved into their pit window, Mercedes made the choice to pit Hamilton four laps after Verstappen.
Asked what made Mercedes believe they could run so long on their first set of medium tyres, Wolff replied: “Hindsight is a tough thing because you can say if we would have covered Max, we had the quicker car at that stage, but we didn’t know, so dragging it out to a one-stop was a valid thing at that stage, but then we lost too much time over two laps. That’s what lost the race.
“We were lap 19 or 20 and we needed to extend it to 23 to make the one-stop sick.
“So Max stops, for a clear two-stop, and we knew we just needed four more laps for a one-stop and he was 20 seconds behind us, and then just the tyres just dropped and we lost the gap.
“You can see that George [Russell] was left in no man’s land, just was fading, and everything a little bit went against us. Tough fighting with [Daniel] Ricciardo who came out on the soft for quickest lap and feisty [Lando] Norris, but that is how it goes.”
Wolff suggested that Hamilton battle with Norris to snatch away P2 was actually the scrap which cost Hamilton the time he needed to challenge Verstappen for the win.
“That lap was two seconds slower than the previous one and the one after, but then you expect defending,” said Wolff.
“And with Ricciardo it was a second and a half, but fair does.”
Hamilton was set to boost his efforts to claim P2 in the Drivers’ Championship by reducing the gap to Sergio Perez to 19 points, but his DQ means that deficit now grows to 37 points.