Having been wary of Ferrari’s “outstanding” pace in the middle sector at the Baku circuit in qualifying, Toto Wolff is feeling more confident about Mercedes’ chances after Ferrari’s advantage “shrunk” in race conditions in the sprint event.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc bagged pole position for the Baku sprint race as well as the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Monégasque driver “outstanding” in the middle sector as Wolff put it after Friday night’s qualifying.
That, though, was somewhat negated in Saturday’s sprint race were it was once again evident that the Ferrari in race trim is a different car to what it is in qualifying which is partly down to high tyre degradation.
That was clear over the course of the 17 laps, prompting Wolff to suggest the race could be better for Mercedes especially with the lap count up to 51.
“The race could be better,” the Mercedes motorsport boss told Sky Sports. “Ferrari’s advantage has shrunk a bit. Let’s see what pace Lewis [Hamilton] has when he starts from P5.”
Hamilton will start the race from fifth place on the grid with George Russell P11 having missed out on Q3 by 0.004s on Friday night.
But while that qualifying didn’t go to plan for the 25-year-old, he did put his car up into fourth place on the sprint grid and, after an early race tussle with Max Verstappen for third, brought his car home in fourth place showing solid pace.
Wolff, though, admits Mercedes still aren’t happy with the situation.
“We’re just not happy with what we have. Sometimes there are performance flashes, like for example George in the second half of the race,” he said.
“He was really strong in the last third of the race. He obviously benefited from a free run, but next to Perez he was the fastest car on the track.
“The Ferrari lost a lot of pace in the last laps.
“On the other hand, we see that as soon as we get stuck in traffic, like with Lewis, the tyres struggle. So overall we can’t be satisfied.
“But we’re working flat out to overcome these deficits and then, I’m optimistic, we’ll be able to drive up front again.”