Despite delivering arguably their strongest performance of the season so far in Hungary, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is still urging caution.
It has been an underwhelming start to the 2022 campaign for Mercedes after a major overhaul to the regulations, although at the Hungarian Grand Prix the Silver Arrows once more provided hope for a resurgence.
After some strong showings earlier in the season proved to be only blips, Mercedes truly upped their game at the Hungaroring as George Russell claimed pole position on merit, the first of his career.
Russell then led the race for the early stages, while in the later laps Lewis Hamilton had the pace to pass Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Russell, finishing P2 ahead of his team-mate.
Is that it for the false starts then? Well, team boss Wolff is not ready to celebrate just yet, arguing Ferrari still had the faster car in Hungary all things considered.
Charles Leclerc looked primed to win after passing Russell at the end of a thrilling battle, although Ferrari threw away the race for their driver by later switching him onto the hard tyres.
“I think we need to be careful it’s not specific to Budapest that we just landed in the perfect window,” Wolff warned, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“The other teams, Ferrari especially in qualifying, complained about the tyres not being where they should have been.
“So in my personal opinion, we are still lacking to the front-runners.
“You’ve seen Leclerc on the right tyres is still a dominant force. But at least we were in the same race.
“I don’t want to say now suddenly we are right bang into the game and we can win races because I don’t think that’s the case.
“I think we landed it well in Budapest on Saturday and we are reaping the results [in the race]. But I don’t think we are close enough to Ferrari and Red Bull to really fight them as yet, but lots of learning and it’s important to get it wrong also.”
Toto Wolff may be sceptical, but Hungary felt different with Mercedes
Mercedes are, of course, trying to claw their way back to the top of the pecking order, but so far this season it seems each time they are ‘back’, it proves to be a one-off, that having been the case after the Spanish and British GPs.
Hungary though was a different level of performance from the Silver Arrows. Qualifying had been a weakness for much of the season up to that point, then Russell went and stuck it on pole.
And while Leclerc probably would have finished ahead of Russell and Hamilton with a decent strategy, the same likely true for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who won the race, this did feel like Mercedes were finally, as Wolff termed it, “in the same race”.
Hamilton proved that by being legitimately faster than Sainz and overtaking when the pair were on soft tyres.
There is also the not so small matter of the Spa technical directive to factor in, as the FIA looks to clamp down on a potential loophole found with the plank and skid blocks underneath the cars.
Russell seems confident Red Bull and Ferrari were two of the teams “pushing” the regulations in that regard, so we could see Mercedes right back in the mix at Spa.
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Mercedes have had two double podium finishes in a row. Are they fully in the fight at the front now?