Wolff: 'We need to scratch our heads and find performance'

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Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton will lead the field this afternoon at Imola, but team boss Toto Wolff says the Brackley squad only owes its pole position to a mistake by Max Verstappen on the Red Bull driver's final run.

Hamilton clocked in just 0.035s ahead of Sergio Perez and 0.087s clear of Verstappen in Saturday's shootout.

The Mexican also rued a small mistake on his final run that likely cost him pole, adding to Wolff's view that Mercedes' W12 is once again trailing Red Bull's contender this weekend on pure pace.

"The pole was a surprise because at the moment we do not have the quickest car," said the Austrian.

"It was so close and Max, without the mistake, would have been solid on pole, maybe not as much as Bahrain but he would have been there."

Wolff said that compared to F1's previous visit to Imola last November, Mercedes' loss relative to Red Bull is "just enormous".

"We were six tenths ahead [in 2020] and now we are two tenths behind," added Wolff. "So, we need to scratch our heads and just try to find the performance.

"It’s a quicker car than in Bahrain, I think we have got the car in a better balance window, that’s the main reason for the improvement.

"We had some drivability concerns in Bahrain and we are sorting that out – slowly we are getting there."

Adding to Wolff's worries for Sunday's race was Valtteri Bottas' low-key performance in qualifying that has left the Finn only P8 on the grid, a shortfall that only boosts Red Bull's chances, especially as the Milton Keynes-based outfit has opted to split its tyre strategies.

"It’s a big advantage for them because not only two Red Bulls behind but Perez is starting on Softs so they can do two different strategies," noted the Mercedes boss.

"Valtteri has to make his way through the soft runners, which he will and can, but I think we are a little bit on the backfoot."

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