Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Wolff says the racing gods favoured Mercedes after narrow win over Red Bull

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Red Bull showed they will be “extremely difficult to beat” during 2021 after Lewis Hamilton’s narrow win over their rivals in Bahrain.

Mercedes used track position to their advantage in their battle against Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver had superior pace as he chased Hamilton down in the final laps, but went off-track overtaking the Mercedes at turn four and had to hand back the place a few corners later.

Hamilton took victory by less than a second, and said it was one of his hardest of recent years. It left Wolff in disbelief after Mercedes had trailed Red Bull on pace through pre-season testing as well as both practice and qualifying in Bahrain.

“If somebody would have told me that this is going to be the result on Sunday, I would have probably not believed it,” said Wolff.

“But we recovered well from the test Today, I think we were competitive. We were definitely competitive. The strategy made all the difference. We took a bold move at the beginning, gained track position and then at the end the racing god was on our side.”

Red Bull still held the advantage on absolute race pace. Verstappen was set for fastest lap until Mercedes pitted Valtteri Bottas for fresh tyres in the final stages so he could snatch the fastest lap bonus point. However Wolff said the team’s W12, having been problematic in testing, came good in the race.

“We were four tenths off in qualifying, and that’s quite a gap, and very difficult to recover. We knew that we had a good race car, but whether it is enough to reduce that gap wasn’t very clear. We need to understand why our car was in a happy place today set-up wise and tyre-wise and not in the previous days on the long runs,” Wolff added.

“Bahrain was always not the strongest race for Red Bull, and also they haven’t been particularly good out of the blocks. This weekend shows that all that is not the case anymore in 2021.

“So I have no doubt that they are extremely difficult to beat. They are the ones that are leading the pack. And I think today, the racing gods were on our side.

“That’s why it’s not that we have found suddenly some awesome performance, but it was a combination of great strategy, a solid race car and then just being fortunate at the end.”

A formation lap problems which temporarily shut down Sergio Perez’s car meant the Red Bull driver had to start from the pit lane and never featured in the battle up front. He recovered to fifth, but third place for Bottas means Mercedes leave Bahrain with a 13-point lead in the constructors standings.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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39 comments on “Wolff says the racing gods favoured Mercedes after narrow win over Red Bull”

  1. You can say they are #Blessed

  2. The RBR seemed a tad faster on Saturday, but on Sunday the Mercedes was still quicker.
    (Even) Bottas was closing the gap to Verstappen.

    I hope that the two cars remain this close the whole season and that Perez can enter into the mix soon.

    1. Only on the medium on the hard Max was faster. But i wonder what for glitch Perez had that was very strange.

      1. Only on the medium on the hard Max was faster.

        Even on the harder tyres I’d give it to Mercedes.
        After both stops Verstappen reeled in Hamilton only because he had fresher tyres. Bottas stayed with Verstappen after stop 1 4-5s (roughly same stop), and had the older tyres (and traffic) after his disastrous 2nd stop.
        @macleod

        I analyse the race as RBR being on a faster strategy, but Mercedes being on a smarter strategy; prioritising position rather than total average speed with a double undercut.

        1. @coldfly not only on mediums, mercedes strategy was smarter but, redbull was really faster, and didnt react on time, if they did, they would have won this… that medium tyre strategy was bad to keep it that long… maybe they wanted to see how long mercedes can keep up before destroying tyres, maybe they had no options but they were gonna be on the same boat with slightly faster car… they tried a hungary 19 kind of stint… but max botched it on timing…he rushed it, and ham knows him well, and put him on the right place, max fell for it…

    2. I hope RB will make a reliable car for once. It seems Verstappen couldn’t change the diff and Perez had a black screen of death, after swapping out CE and batteries iirc.

    3. @coldfly

      (Even) Bottas was closing the gap to Verstappen.

      I see what you did there !

      1. I might be wrong and (even) considered leaving out the ‘even’.
        But I need more proof before accepting that Bottas is now at the level of Hamilton and Verstappen ;)
        @tifoso1989

        1. @coldfly Verstappen was just poor on those extra laps. So yeah you could actually say that Bottas is on the level of Verstappen. Better maybe even. At least he can properly finish his stint.

          1. StintMeister
            30th March 2021, 8:14

            @f1osaurus
            But Bottas didn’t finish his stint? He took the free pit stop for fastest lap, because he was miles back, as is the standard with him.

    4. RB had the fastest car overall

      1. The facts show otherwise: Bottas fastest lap.

        1. Thats kind of artificial, with a last minute free tyre change and energy harvesting in the previous lap. Anyway I agree that in race trim the Merc was marginally faster than the RB, Not abysmally faster as in previous seasons. We still have a fight going on. And hopefullly nobody will we able to win everything without ever breaking a sweat this year. It was about time.

    5. I trully admire some people´s braveness to say RB were fast when all the data at disposal shows otherwise.

  3. It was the Hamilton factor that made the difference.

    1. No it wasn’t really…

        1. Not according to TW. “it was a combination of great strategy, a solid race car and then just being fortunate at the end.”

          1. You need a driver who can execute the great strategy. Hamilton is probably the only driver alive who could do it.

          2. @robbie Thankfully Wolff spared us the gushing superlatives Horner always bestows on Max but @greenflag is right, Mercedes race strategy is built around the expectation Hamilton (rather than Bottas) can deliver. I doubt any other driver on the grid would have brought home a win over those final laps. Wolff knows it was exceptional.

          3. @david-br I can accept that somewhat, but with the proviso that let’s appreciate LH is in year 8 now engrained with the best car/team until proven otherwise over this season, while of course appreciating what seems now to be a much more competitive RBR car. Just saying, give Max the same time and experience with such a strong team, and the track position LH had, (again kudos to LH and Mercedes the team) and I don’t think LH did anything Max wouldn’t have also been able to do. To say ‘only driver alive’ is I think overstating it.

            Let’s compare apples to apples. Max is engrained at RBR, but with a much shorter tenure with, until now it appears, a lesser pu, and this was race one of him having a car that is finally this close to Mercedes. RBR the team could have done a few things better, but of course that’s hindsight and they’ll learn from it. But for Max to suffer in dirty air as inevitably happens, and come that close at the end, tells me no, LH isn’t the ‘only driver alive’ that could have executed their strategy yesterday. Max in year 8 of a dominant car on an incredible team would be just as formidable. I am saying LH is formidable too, which is obvious. Just not the only driver alive.

          4. @robbie I wasn’t myself necessarily including Verstappen: in a sense not since he’s part of the equation! (i.e. Hamilton had to defend from VER, not just anyone). However, In disagree with you that Hamilton wasn’t the primary factor and Wolff indeed gave that away with his reactions immediately after the race, including a moment when Bottas came to him to complain about strategy and the rest of the team were celebrating. Smiling still, Wolff just waved him away without listening.
            It’s a story that will still develop this year, I think. Bottas must feel (or even know) it’s his last season, so he’s going to do a lot more of what he wants and express his frustrations likewise. May not be ideal for Hamilton if and when he’s battling it out with Verstappen assisted by Perez.

          5. @david-br Fair comment, and yeah I already thought VB was toast, and nothing has changed that for me nor do I think will. Didn’t catch him being waved away lol. Even if VB has his best season this year I don’t think it will be enough and I think they really need to get GR in there to learn from LH while he’s still in F1. Probably said that to you before;)

  4. So Masi is your god? Sounds about right.

    1. I think he was referring to Pirelli. Ham knows how to look after them; Max clearly doesn’t.

  5. Business as usual for Mercedes. From next race on, they’ll be dominating again. Just had to clear some stuff that wasn’t addressed during testing.

    1. Not sure about that, I’m sure they’ll find some pace but who else won’t? I think Mercedes have fallen for a double play, the aero-reg change affecting low rake cars more than all the rest and failing to block the upgraded Honda PU before the freeze.
      I should also feel some sympathy for the green team but just can’t find it in me.

  6. Red Bull still held the advantage on absolute race pace.

    yep

    1. @amam Did they really though? Hamilton was easily able to stay within 2 seconds of Verstappen in the first stint. There is no way Red Bull would just allow the Mercedes to stay within their undercut window if they had more pace in hand. That’s rule #1 of leading the race: ensure the gap to the car behind is greater than the undercut advantage, and Verstappen left himself vulnerable after that. Moreover, once Hamilton pitted, Max really couldn’t find much pace on the lap after Hamilton pitted, proving he was basically on the limit.

      1. @mashiat Of course that’s the truth, but I don’t think that fits with the narrative..

      2. Well, RB was tactically outmanoeuvred twice and they still only barely missed out on the victory. So, their race pace could make up for their inferior strategy.

        Whether that was down to the drivers or the cars, that is up for debate. Let’s leave that to the fanboys,

        In any case, it is clear that they can beat each other if they optimize their race.
        It will also be interesting to see how RB will handle future strategy calls. With nothing to lose, they could afford to take risks for the occasional race win, with the title on the line, maybe they are forced to be more conservative and play the long game.

        Reply moderated
  7. After 7 straight championship doubles you’d have thought their credit with the racing gods would have run out already…

    1. @geemac Yeah it’s incredible. Even if Bottas’ bad luck continues (the bad pit stop), it didn’t affect anything for Mercedes.

  8. I don’t think this is a case of Red Bull having the strongest overall package and Mercedes beating them through luck or determination and more Red Bull being strong while Mercedes irons out the kinks from an underwhelming testing. That Red Bull didn’t look like it had much left to give but I’d say there’s still a few tenths hiding in that Mercedes that inevitably will be unlocked over the next few races. I have no doubt that the season will be a little closer than last year’s but not close enough to not be 100% sure where the titles are heading at the end of it.

  9. There have been so many times where Wolff / Hamilton / Allison etc have downplayed their chances and calling themselves underdogs and the media (especially Sky) lap it up. Mercedes were never on the back foot. Verstappen may have been closer than usual, but deapite all their pre season rubbish about being slower than Red Bull it’s nonsense yet again.

    Reply moderated
    1. You’re right. RBR should just quit now and stick to selling heart attacks in a can.

  10. Is racing god a secret code for masi?

  11. Now if only Hamilton was driving the Redbull….

    5 laps to go with tires that are 11 laps fresher, within 1 second of the car ahead, with DRS, and that other car should have no chance. right?

    Verstappen could have picked his spot to over take, instead he reacted to a sucker move.

    1. Indeed Verstappen clearly got played. Again, since Hamilton did the same to him in Monaco. Let Verstappen feel he has an opportunity to overtake in an inconvenient spot and then wait for him to foul up.

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