Toto Wolff has admitted he “would not have believed” Mercedes could win the Bahrain Grand Prix – and believes his team are still behind Red Bull.
Sir Lewis Hamilton secured his 96th victory in Formula 1 when he held off Max Verstappen in a thrilling duel, the Red Bull driver giving the lead back after he had overtaken the World Champion only by exceeding track limits.
But it was a race Mercedes won with an inspired strategy as they made their pit-stops earlier than Red Bull and performed the undercut in order for Hamilton to gain track position on Verstappen, who had claimed pole position by a sizeable 0.388sec.
Team principal and co-owner Wolff thinks the step forward Red Bull have made, and the difficulties Mercedes experienced in pre-season testing following the tweaks to the technical regulations, have created a shift from last year in who holds the upper hand.
“If somebody had told me before Sunday that a Mercedes win would be the result I would not have believed them,” said Wolff, quoted by PA Media, after his team left Bahrain with a 13-point lead in the Constructors’ World Championship as they seek an eighth consecutive title.
“We recovered well from the pre-season test but if we are 100% honest with ourselves, we are lacking quite a bit of pace in qualifying.
“In the past, Bahrain has not been a strong race for Red Bull and they have not been particularly good out of the blocks either, but this weekend shows that in 2021 that is no longer the case.
“I have no doubt they are extremely difficult to beat and are leading the pack.
“We have not suddenly found some awesome performance but the win was a combination of good race strategy, a solid race car and being fortunate at the end. The racing gods were on our side.”
Asked if the sport is about to usher in another of the great rivalries, Wolff replied: “I hope so, for all the fans and for all of us. On Sunday, we saw a tremendous battle between two very good teams and two very good drivers.”
Round two of the season will take place at Imola on April 18 when Hamilton and Verstappen’s team-mates, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, will hope to play more prominent roles after finishing a fairly distant third and fifth respectively in Bahrain.