Toto Wolff has admitted Mercedes were in need of “a little bit of happiness” before the team’s breakthrough performance in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.
Having targeted a return to regular race-winning contention in 2023, Mercedes were aghast to find themselves six tenths away from pole position – the same deficit with which their started last season – at the season opener in Bahrain.
With Wolff admitting the race the following day was one of the worst days of his career, the team boss ordered sweeping changes to the W14 car after acknowledging the team had pursued the wrong development path.
After showing promised at the recent Saudi Arabian GP, however, Mercedes – still fielding the original specification of their 2023 car – emerged as Max Verstappen’s biggest threat in qualifying in Melbourne as George Russell and Lewis Hamilton qualified second and third respectively.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the session, Wolff admitted the team had been crying out for a morale-boosting performance in light of a challenging start to the campaign.
He said: “It’s good, starting second and third. It’s been a while since we’ve had nobody in front of us [on the front row] in P2, so [we’ll] just try to make the best of it.
“Verstappen is in a league of his own but maybe we can then slot in [behind].
“We needed a little bit of happiness and today we got some of that.”
Wolff claimed the breakthrough result was a function of Mercedes’ engineering and operational aptitude, with the team applying lessons over how best to prepare the tyres as the hour-long session developed.
He explained: “Overall, today [the car] was nice.
“We just got it together over the weekend. We just grinded away with putting performance on the car in terms of the right mechanical setup. I’m happy.
“I think we learned through the session and we’ve been open-minded. We changed the plan from the third or fourth push lap to the second and then only one, so it was OK.”
Having claimed Mercedes’ only victory of 2022, Russell qualified ahead of Hamilton for the third race in succession – the first time since 2010 that the seven-time World Champion has been outqualified by a team-mate at Albert Park.
When pushed on the difference between his drivers on Saturday, Wolff issued a cagey response.
“Nothing,” he said.
Both drivers described Mercedes’ performance in qualifying as unexpected, but Russell admitted to being “a little bit disappointed” to miss out on pole position at the close of the session.