Toto Wolff makes Mercedes W15 promise as poor results mask true development story

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

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes is lined up in place to start the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix.

Despite not bringing home a hugely successful result in Japan, Toto Wolff has promised Mercedes has taken a step forward with the W15.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton claimed seventh and ninth on race day at Suzuka having started the race from the same positions, albeit with the driver’s places mirrored.

Toto Wolff: We’ve made a big step forward

While Mercedes didn’t make any inroads into the cars in front of them, this was primarily down to an awkward strategy choice as both Russell and Hamilton embarked on the race with the aim of a one-stop strategy after the first start was red-flagged.

But the long first stint on hard tyres proved horrible for both, with cars swooping past them with ease following their own first stops as the difficulty of reaching the midway point of the race to make the strategy work made itself felt.

But, having got the difficult part of the race out of the way, Russell and Hamilton caught up to the cars in front in the closing stages. Russell was able to clear Oscar Piastri’s McLaren for seventh place but ran out of time to attack Fernando Alonso for sixth.

Speaking to the media after the race, team boss Toto Wolff had some pep in his step as he explained how the W15 has shown clear signs of improvement despite the tough result.

“When you look at the results, seventh and ninth in qualifying, and seventh and ninth in the race, that’s clearly not good. Everybody knows that,” he said.

“But we’ve definitely made a big step forward in where and how we want to run the car and in our understanding.

“It was one of the worst tracks for us last year and [this year], we were pretty close to the front runners. Not Max [Verstappen], but the guys behind in qualifying – that came as a surprise.

“We were very quick through the esses, whereas, last year, we were nowhere. Today, in the race, when you look at how it unfolded, we were trying to make a one-stop stick and probably overmanaged the tyres and had an atrocious first stint.

“But [we had] a very competitive second and third stint – the moment we basically did what the others did, and that would have looked completely different.

“Seventh and ninth are just not good, full stop. There’s nothing to add, nothing to make rosy. But I think we’re going away from Suzuka, not happy with the result but, definitely, there’s more to come.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 race wins: Which drivers have the highest win totals in F1 history?

F1 2024: Head-to-head race statistics between team-mates

Toto Wolff: Track temperature wasn’t to blame for difficult first stint

With Mercedes seemingly happier with cooler track conditions, as seen in qualifying, Wolff doubts the warmer conditions of the Grand Prix played a role in affecting the pace of the W15 over the race distance.

Instead, Wolff pointed the finger at the strategic choice of running a long stint on the hards to make the one-stop work.

“It was three degrees difference in track temperature between stint one and stint two,” he said.

“So, as much as I believe there is a relationship between our performance with the track temperature, I don’t think it was the reason for our off performance in the first stint.

“It was trying to try to extend it to one-stop, losing lots of times with the overtakes more than the track temperature.”

Asked whether the performance is within the W15, but the laptime isn’t corresponding, Wolff said all the data shows the car should be stronger than it has shown in the first few races of the season as the team’s correlation problems have hindered their progress.

“Everything over these two years, which you have seen, points to that there should be much [more] downforce than we believe it is,” he said.

“We’ve measured the downforce and it is there. We’re just not able to extract the lead time out of it that we should and that simulations have shown us.

“And it’s not trivial. You might think ‘What the hell?’ Imagine what we think!”

Read Next: ‘Aggressive’ and ‘desperate’ – George Russell criticised by Damon Hill after tense Oscar Piastri battle in Japan