‘They woke up the lion’ – Wolff says Hamilton showing his ‘superhero powers’ after pair of crushing wins
After his disqualification from qualifying for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton’s title prospects weren’t looking rosy. But following dominant back-to-back wins in Brazil and Qatar, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff believes that “the lion” in Hamilton has been well and truly woken up.
It was a rear wing infringement in Sao Paulo that saw Hamilton lose his P1 from qualifying, dropping him to the back of the grid for the Sprint. Since that moment, though, Hamilton’s been unstoppable, surging to P5 in the Sprint before winning the Sao Paulo Grand Prix – while Hamilton was untouchable in Qatar, as he claimed a lights-to-flag victory over title rival Max Verstappen, to move within eight points of the Dutchman’s championship lead.
And according to Wolff, it was that disqualification in Interlagos that was the catalyst for Hamilton’s sterling performances currently.
“He's totally in the zone… they woke up the lion,” said Wolff. “They have woken up the lion on the Saturday in Interlagos. He's absolutely on it, brutal and cold-blooded. And this is the best in Lewis. We've seen it in the past, he's right there.
“When adversity happens, it takes him to a place where he's able to mobilise superhero powers, and it was the adversity that triggered that in Interlagos.”
Despite Hamilton’s crushing performance in Qatar, Wolff admitted he couldn’t be 100% satisfied with Mercedes’ weekend, with Verstappen able to finish second for a second consecutive race despite receiving a penalty that dropped him to P7 on the grid, while he also claimed the bonus point for fastest lap.
Then there was the fate of Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas, who endured a horror race, taking his own grid penalty before dropping at the start from P6 to P11, then climbing back up the order only to suffer a puncture and eventually retire the car.
That outcome allowed Red Bull to move to within five points of Mercedes’ constructors’ lead. But according to Wolff, given Mercedes’ underwhelming start to 2021 pre-season testing, he was happy just to be in the fight in both championships at this stage of the season.
“It's funny because the initial feeling is bittersweet,” said Wolff after the race. “Both championships are so important now. With Lewis it was great – the one point [that Verstappen took for fastest lap] is a bit annoying, but it's great he won the race, and the good news is the car is really fast. It seemed to be in a happy spot, he controlled the race from the front and that's a good indication from what's to come in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
“If you can say about the day in the office, if you can call it hell, that was Valtteri's day,” added Wolff. “Fell back right after the start into no-man's land, recovered, really on course for a podium, then was the first one to have a puncture at the beginning of the lap and then there was no downforce anymore and we retired it. I mean it doesn't go any worse.
“[But] if you would have told us [at the start of the season that the title fight] is going to go to Saudi Arabia or to the end of the season, we would have taken that. I think we started on the back foot, we just weren't good enough, the regulations didn't go our way, and you have to take it on the chin.
“And therefore whoever wins the championship, merits to win the championship. It's going to cost me maybe a sleepless night, maybe two [if we don’t win], it would be annoying but we can take it. It's not the end of the world. We would come back strong – not pre-empting anything, but we would come back strong next season. And the seasons to come.”
Asked, meanwhile, if he now felt in control of the championships given Mercedes’ recent momentum, Wolff replied: “I wish! I really enjoy the ride because it's good fun, really, when it's so tough. This is exactly why we're in this sport and I enjoy every minute.”
The title fight after the Qatar GP
|1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing||351.5|
|2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes||343.5|
|3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes||203|
|4 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing||190|
|5 Lando Norris McLaren||153|