Wolff admits Mercedes still 'a chunk behind the top two'

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W13. 11.06.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku
© XPB 

Mercedes might have finished the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with both cars in the top four, but team principal Toto Wolff is under no illusion just how much lost ground the squad has to make up on Red Bull and Ferrari.

"We once again found ourselves clear of the midfield in terms of pace, but a chunk behind the top two teams," he said this week ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix. "We're working flat out to close that gap.

"But with an underperforming package, I loved seeing the fight in the team to pull together and get us the best result possible [in Baku] with the tools at hand," he added. "That spirit will bring us back competing at the front."

Mercedes continues to be plagued by the issue of 'porpoising', a side result of the reintroduction of ground effect aerodynamics that leaves the car bouncing violently down long straights.

Wolff told Viaplay that this was resulting in extreme stress on the drivers. "It's up to 6G that we are generating in vertical load, so it's not muscular anymore - it's the bones."

It was so bad in Baku that Lewis Hamilton complained of intense back pain when he finally got out of the car at the end of the race. There were even concerns he might not be well enough to race in Montreal.

"Baku was a tricky weekend for us, particularly with the bouncing issues," acknowledged Wolff. "but we really maximised the opportunities that came our way and left Azerbaijan with a solid collection of points."

Wolff admitted that some of that was thanks to a double retirement for Ferrari, which meant that George Russell was able to join Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez on the podium.

"We benefited from the misfortune of others, but reliability is an important factor in F1," Wolff stressed. "There's no shortage of hard work at Brackley and Brixworth behind getting both cars to the finish line."

Chris Medland (GBR) Journalist with Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director on the grid. 29.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Race

What has been remarkable about the season so far is the consistency of Russell who has finished in the top five in every one of the eight races so far this season, beating Hamilton in all but the season opener.

But Wolff said that he didn't believe the seven-time world champion had lost his edge or has been lacking confidence since the blow of missing out on the title in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2021.

“No I don’t think it’s like that, he is the best that has ever been," Wolff told Channel 4. “Between Abu Dhabi in 2021, dominating the last third of the season, to four months later, you are not losing your ability.”

And he didn't think there was a risk that relations between Russell and Hamilton might deteriorate if the situation persists insisting they were working well together as a partnership.

"They appear to me, both of them, it’s very professional," he said. "What I enjoy is them working together trying to bring the car back to the front.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 with team mate George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1. 12.06.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku

“They have been given a car that is a bit sub-par: each of them tries to develop the car further," he explained. "They have both gone a different set-up direction, Lewis again very experimental [in Baku].

"As long as the car is not good enough to really be racing at the front, the differences are small," he added. "I don’t think you can have a pattern saying ‘George is continuously outperforming Lewis’ or the other way around."

As for this weekend's race, Wolff said he was looking forward to heading back to Canada after two seasons away due to COVID.

"Having not been to Montreal since 2019, we're all excited to return," he said. " It's a wonderful city and the Canadian fans are very passionate about F1.

"The track is a unique challenge, with chicanes separated by long straights. We're looking forward to seeing what the weekend has in store and hope we can take a step forward."

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