Toto Wolff has jokingly pointed out Mercedes could still win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix if the “top four drivers crash out”.
Mercedes will line up for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in fifth and seventh places, with George Russell again having the measure of Lewis Hamilton over a single lap in Saturday qualifying.
Russell’s best time in Q3 was 1.3 seconds away from the pole position set by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and two tenths clear of Hamilton’s best – the pair split by AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
With such a huge gulf between the ‘best of the rest’ and the leading Ferraris and Red Bulls, Wolff joked it would take pretty unusual circumstances for a Mercedes victory in Baku on Sunday.
“I think the most we expected today was to be third quickest on the road, but [Pierre] Gasly put in a really strong lap to get between us,” Wolff said after the session as he spoke to Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok as the broadcaster analysed Mercedes’ performance.
“For tomorrow, if you look at it through rose-tinted glasses you can see hopefully the four of them ahead come together in Turn 1 and then we can win the race!” he joked.
“There’s no doubt the gap to the front is big. It’s a long lap time here and we are lacking pretty much everywhere. I wish I didn’t need to look at these kinds of performance overlays in future with the guys up front (referring to comparison TV footage).
“But I think on pure pace, it’s realistic to finish fifth and sixth. Strategy can play a big role, you can recover and make up positions if you are on the right strategy. We can gamble given the position we are in because when you are the hunter it’s a different situation, so we’ll be looking at all options for the race.”
With Mercedes struggling with particularly prevalent porpoising on their W13 this weekend, as both drivers have complained about the extent of the bouncing, Andrew Shovlin paid tribute to the efforts of Russell and Hamilton.
“We’d hoped the car would have been easier to work with here than in Monaco but it’s not, and being realistic the drivers did a very good job to qualify fifth and seventh,” said Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director.
“We did change quite a lot overnight and were able to improve a few areas of performance – our straight-line speed certainly looked a little better today.
“However, the gaps to Ferrari and Red Bull are huge and it’s the corners where we are losing the most. We’ve definitely got problems with bouncing on the straights but without that, we’d still be lacking performance so we clearly need to work on a number of fronts.
“We are, at least, at the right end of the midfield and will hopefully be in a position to pick up any places if either Red Bull or Ferrari have an issue, but the long run picture from Friday doesn’t look like we’ll be in the same race as them from a pace point of view.
“Regardless, it’s generally a crazy and unpredictable race here so we just need to make the most of it and be ready to react if opportunities arise. It will be hot and tough on the tyres, so degradation will be important and no doubt play a part. But overall, our goal is to secure third best team here and then be ready to seize any opportunity to move higher.”
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