Mercedes daring to dream of sixth world title after 'big step' in Russia
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has called his squad’s one-two finish at the Russian Grand Prix “a big step” towards the team securing a record-tying sixth straight constructors’ championship, as the Silver Arrows saw off the threat from rivals Ferrari in Sochi.
Hamilton’s fourth Russian Grand Prix win was founded on him being able to pit under a Virtual Safety Car brought out when early race leader Sebastian Vettel retired his Ferrari on Lap 26 – an event which turned the race on its head, as Mercedes’ strategy to run long on their medium starting tyres began to pay out handsomely.
Valtteri Bottas then got ahead of pole sitter Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari when the Monegasque pitted on Lap 30, in an attempt to re-launch an attack on the Mercedes pair using fresh rubber. It was a tactic that ultimately failed to come off, however, leaving Mercedes to claim their sixth consecutive win, and fourth one-two, in Russia.
We need to recover pure pace in Suzuka, find answers to our questions and be stronger
“It makes it so special,” said Wolff about the way the race had come to Mercedes. “It’s unbelievable because you start to doubt [your strategy] and you know where you have the deficits and you cling on to these few hopes like a late Safety Car… and then it happens. We’re just overwhelmed in the team.
“I think it was a big step towards the championship,” he added. “Obviously it’s never done – black swans do exist and that’s why we’ve got to really see weekend by weekend. We need to recover pure pace in Suzuka. It’s a brilliant track; we’ve been always very strong there, and we’ve got to find answers to our questions and be stronger.”
Chief among those questions will be how to get back on pace terms with Ferrari, with Vettel asserting his belief after the race that the Russian Grand Prix was the first time Ferrari had enjoyed genuine Mercedes-beating race pace this year.
“It seems to be the case,” Wolff agreed. “Overall, the whole weekend they have been better and we have a big job on our hands. We need to sort out our absolute pace in qualifying and we need to sort out the way we set up the cars, how we understand the tyres in order to be quick in the race again.”
On the back of a perfect-scoring weekend in Sochi, Mercedes now head Ferrari by 162 points in the constructors’ battle, with only 220 left on the table in the remaining five races. But while title number six - a title which would see Mercedes equal Ferrari's record of six straight titles, set between 1999 and 2004 - now seems to be something of a formality, with rule stability going into 2020 and Ferrari having won three of the last four Grands Prix, there’ll be discomfort in the Mercedes camp about their rivals’ recent resurgence nonetheless…
Constructors' standings after Russia
|3 Red Bull Racing