Mercedes missed an opportunity to score their first victory of the season and even take a one-two finish in Singapore last weekend, team principal Toto Wolff has admitted.George Russell narrowly fell short of taking pole position, losing out to Carlos Sainz Jnr by seven hundredths of a second. He was passed by Sainz’s Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc at the start of the grand prix, but Russell recovered to second place by half distance. He gambled on making a second pit stop later in the race and was in third when he crashed out on the final lap.
Lewis Hamilton, who qualified half a second off pole position in fifth, inherited the last place on the podium from his team mate. But Wolff said there were times during the race when the team’s strategy planner indicated they were on course to finish first and second.
“We’ve been really strong here,” he said. “We could have won the race.”
Mercedes haven’t won a race since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, and Sainz’s victory yesterday ended the unbeaten run Red Bull has been on since the 2022 season finale.
Despite falling short of their potential in Singapore, Wolff said Mercedes’ performance will give encouragement to everyone in the team.
“We could have finished first and second on merit and that is what we need to take from here,” he said. “Clearly it will energise us and motivate even more that on this particular track we were strong. So not everything is wrong.
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“When you see on the planner P1 and P2 popping up at times and you think about it, it could have been an unbelievable day and it’s not. But I’d rather fall back on the positives of this weekend and go back home and say ‘that was good one’.”
Russell drove an attacking race and often looked capable of lapping quicker than the Ferraris but was never able to get into a position where he could overtake them. Wolff said Russell showed strong pace throughout the race and his radio calls to the team encouraged them to take a gamble on making a second pit stop during a Virtual Safety Car period, which gave them a chance to win.
“I think we haven’t seen all of the pace in front, but from the outside perspective, it was just a great weekend from him and today he was on it,” said Wolff. “He was the one who pushed also for the bold call and said ‘I want to win this race’ and in the end he just ran out of laps.”
After both making their second pit stops during the VSC period, the Mercedes drivers closed in on the leaders and passed Leclerc to run third and fourth. They then caught up to Lando Norris, who they were unable to overtake. McLaren suspected Mercedes had to reduce their pace at that point to guard against overheating, but Wolff denied that was the case.
“No, not at all: Surfaces were in a healthy place, brakes were in good condition,” he said. “That was all in there.
“Carlos played it clever with the DRS. I think we had one opportunity with Lando, straight when we caught up, and that didn’t function and then everybody’s, I guess, really stuck.”
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Wolff called Sainz a “deserving winner” and said his intelligent use of DRS had helped thwart Mercedes’ attack. “The whole weekend he was absolutely on it.
“Managing the race from the front, making sure that Lando was in the DRS, you’ve just got to give him the credit, he was the deserving winner today.”
During the final laps of the race Hamilton complained he was being held up by Russell ahead of him. But Wolff said Mercedes never considered imposing team orders on their drivers.
“I think both played for the victory and in that circumstance, you’ve just got to let them race and do this, fight it out between themselves.”
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