Wolff claims Mexico victory ‘was never on’ for Mercedes but says it’s all to play for in title fight with Red Bull
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff was forced to watch on as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen cruised to an easy victory at the Mexico City Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton followed him home in P2. But despite Mercedes failing to match the pace of Red Bull on race day, Wolff says there is still all to play for in the remaining four races of the 2021 season.
Wolff had been delighted on Saturday when Valtteri Bottas took a surprise pole position ahead of Hamilton at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, for Mercedes’ first front-row lock-out – indeed, their first front-row start – in Mexico since 2016.
But Bottas’ race unravelled within the first few corners after he was spun around by Daniel Ricciardo – and although Hamilton resisted Sergio Perez’s pressure to come home P2, he finished over 16s adrift of Verstappen, as the Dutchman grew his title lead to 19 points over the reigning champion.
READ MORE: Hamilton says he ‘gave it absolutely everything’, but unable to explain loss of pace in Mexico defeat
“I think it was damage limitation for Lewis and it was a really tough but great drive, to be honest, to hold onto second," said Wolff. "Probably we were only good enough for P3 today but he managed to hold onto second.
“When we came here we didn’t expect to beat Red Bull and therefore the qualifying result yesterday came as a surprise,” Wolff added. “Probably they went backwards and we went forwards, but the reflection of the pace differential is what we saw in the race. The win was never on for us and that’s why taking P2 means winning P2.”
There was more damage limitation for Mercedes when Bottas managed to claim the fastest lap late on, stealing that point away from Verstappen before finishing P15 – Bottas having also endured an 11.7s pit stop at one point to compound his misery in Mexico.
But Wolff was frank enough to admit that, as silver linings went, it was a little thin, saying on Sunday evening: “On Valtteri’s side, as good as it was yesterday, it started to go wrong with Turn 1. Then obviously the rim got stuck on the axel [in the pit stop] and then from then on it was really taking that one point away from Max, [which] was not a huge consolation.”
READ MORE: Mexico polesitter Bottas laments ‘very tricky’ afternoon after race-ruining first lap contact with Ricciardo
Meanwhile, aside from Verstappen extending his advantage in the drivers’ standings, Red Bull outscoring Mercedes 40 points to 18 in Mexico also allowed them to close to within a solitary point of the Silver Arrows in the constructors’ table.
But Wolff was unbowed when asked if the tide was starting to shift irrevocably towards Verstappen and Red Bull with four races – in Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi – to go.
“We leave here, the circuit that we probably regarded as one of the worst ones for us,” said Wolff. “We are going to Brazil that wasn’t much better in the past but at least we believe that we can have a solid car there, more close to Red Bull than what we had here.
READ MORE: 'It can turn around very quickly' – Verstappen insists he’s not thinking of the title despite dominant win in Mexico
“I am a pretty realistic person but I love motor racing as anything can happen,” he added. “None of us is ever going to leave this circuit here with the mentality of this is going away from us. There is four races to go, there’s four wins to take, four DNFs to suffer and we will just continue fighting.
“We know that we have a great team. Our car was exceptionally good in Turkey and I think we have all to win. When you look at the mathematical probability then I would rather be 19 points ahead than behind, but it is what it is.”
The constructors' standings after Mexico
|2 Red Bull Racing||477.5|
|7 Aston Martin||68|
|9 Alfa Romeo Racing||11|
|10 Haas F1 Team|