Wolff thought pole had ‘gone’ until Max’s crash
Toto Wolff admitted he thought pole position for Mercedes had “basically gone” until Max Verstappen crashed in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualifying.
Verstappen had the final chance to take P1 away from his World Championship rival Lewis Hamilton and set two purple sectors, looking all set to make it another front-row start for this season’s dominant duo.
But at the final corner of the brand-new Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the Red Bull driver locked up and hit the wall on the outside, coming to a halt on the track with his hopes of snatching pole in tatters.
Instead it will be a front-row lockout for Mercedes with Hamilton just ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who needed an engine change before qualifying having suffered a fuel leak. There was no penalty though as the Finn reverted to another engine in his pool.
Even though Mercedes had arrived as hot favourites for the inaugural F1 race in Saudi Arabia, Red Bull had produced impressive pace throughout qualifying and Wolff was fully expecting Verstappen to grab pole until his last-gasp incident.
“Formula 1 is crazy and full of surprises,” the Mercedes team principal told Sky F1. “They (Red Bull) had a very dominant package today, their car was really great.
“He (Verstappen) was up by about half a second and pole was basically gone, but we are ending up one and two which is obviously a big advantage for tomorrow. It’s just crazy.”
A MASSIVE POLE POSITION FOR LEWIS HAMILTON IN JEDDAH!!! 👊
AND VALTTERI MAKES IT AN-ALL BLACK ARROWS FRONT ROW! 💪 #SaudiArabianGP pic.twitter.com/D9ItiikDsb
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 4, 2021
If Hamilton and Bottas can keep Verstappen behind them and the trio finish in grid order on a circuit where overtaking looks difficult, it would mean the seven-time World Champion going into the Abu Dhabi finale with a points lead rather than his current eight-point deficit.
“It was important to just keep it together – continue attacking, continue attacking. I hope we can just take it into tomorrow,” added Wolff.
“(Verstappen) just needs to go for it. If he’s P3 after the first corner that’s a big, big disadvantage. He needs to get past Valtteri and Lewis, so we are going to fight.”
And on that fight, Wolff again stressed just how determined Mercedes are to retain both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles in the face of the biggest threat to their dominance in the turbo hybrid era.
“There is just brutal energy in the whole team,” said the Austrian. “When you go up into the debrief room or into the garage it doesn’t even need any talking because you feel the energy and how buzzed everyone is.”