Toto Wolff admits ‘illusion’ for Mercedes to get close to Red Bull after ‘underwhelming’ qualifying

Thomas Maher
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has said he remains optimistic the W15 has more performance than it has shown, but admitted Red Bull is out of reach for now.

Mercedes will start the Australian Grand Prix from seventh and 11th on the grid with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, respectively.

Toto Wolff: Qualifying was underwhelming

With neither of his drivers able to join in the fight at the front, and Hamilton unable to make it into Q3, team boss Toto Wolff said the inherent performance of the W15 remains difficult to find on a consistent basis – having apparently been able to exploit it to a greater extent in final practice.

“It’s especially underwhelming because we were within a tenth in FP3,” Wolff told Sky F1 after qualifying.

“The conditions were a little bit different but there’s no excuse.

“I think we have a car that’s difficult and you can be narrowly in and out of the window. As much as I’m annoyed myself, saying this for a long time, we just need to continue working on it and trying to get better.

“It’s not because of a lack of trying that we are where we are, but it’s not good enough.”

With Mercedes openly experimenting with alternative setups and trying different things in a bid to figure their car out as quickly as possible, Wolff said it’s not as simple as needing to dial in more balance.

“I think it’s more complex than that – it’s the whole interaction of aerodynamics and mechanical and the tyres,” he said.

“It’s never a single topic, but we’ve got to just keep our heads down and push through this.”

While the W15 has met with the approval of the drivers for being a more compliant machine than its two predecessors built for the ground-effect regulations, Wolff admitted there’s little chance of the new car being able to fight against the likes of Red Bull’s RB20 any time soon.

“I think it’s an illusion to grow closer to Red Bull in the short term,” he said.

“But I still have to believe that there is more in this car.

“You see those performances like this morning, you know, that is not a bad car that is able to achieve that.

“But it’s so tricky, to be in and out of the performance window and we’ve just got to continue to work on it.” recommends

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George Russell not having ‘fluctuations’ like Lewis Hamilton

With Russell once again having the upper hand on Hamilton, after finishing ahead in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Hamilton spoke about feeling “inconsistencies” from the W15 that he hasn’t yet got on top of.

“It felt great in P3, and it was strange because we were right there with these guys and we didn’t really understand why,” Hamilton told Sky F1 after the session.

“We then go into qualifying and just another inconsistency within the car, it really messes with the mind.

“I think our car is on a bit of a knife edge. I think in the afternoon here, the wind picks up, same as P2, our P1 was a bit better and then, when the wind picks up, the car becomes a lot more unstable.

“This morning was nice. We found the wind and then, as soon as wind picks up, it gets a little bit less stable.

“But the others seem to be able to pick their pace up in qualifying. I’m not sure why, but the grip didn’t feel the same in qualifying, even though we had lighter fuel.

“It felt better in P3, so it’s not a great feeling for everyone on the team, but we’ll just keep working away.”

But whatever issues Hamilton is having, Russell isn’t experiencing the same – as he explained to media after qualifying.

“I’m definitely not having the fluctuations in confidence or performance on my side of the garage, or in my car, compared to what Lewis is experiencing,” he said.

“I’m reasonably happy with how the car is handling, we just don’t quite have the performance.

“It was a difficult day, but we ultimately still qualified P7. There’s going to be a lot of [tyre degradation] in the race, so it’s all still to play for.”

Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering, said the team isn’t yet able to explain why the W15 handles so differently in different conditions.

“It felt like we’d made good progress overnight and the car was working well across FP3 this morning,” he said.

“However, that pace didn’t seem to carry into qualifying and we finished a disappointing P7 and P11. The track was a little hotter and it was a little windier in qualifying, but that does not fully explain why the car was well-behaved in one session and such a handful the next. The work to understand those issues will carry on in the background as we turn our focus to the race.

“We’ve hopefully improved the long run since Friday, but we need to be realistic as to what we can achieve from our starting positions. Managing the tyres is a challenge here.

“They can be fragile, but we will be a few laps in before we can start to see how we are performing in terms of degradation. It’s also a race where the strategy is normally dictated by incidents on track. We’ll be on our toes and hopefully, we can still take away a decent number of points.”

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