Toto Wolff has admitted that the Russian Grand Prix weekend was a difficult one for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, even if it saw Valtteri Bottas become a Grand Prix winner for the first time.
The Head of Mercedes Benz Motorsport expressed his dissatisfaction with the weekend, with work needing to be done to overcome the continued strong challenge coming from Scuderia Ferrari, who locked out the front row of the grid at the Sochi Autodrom.
“I always enjoy going to Russia but it was a tricky weekend for us,” insisted Wolff. “On Friday we lacked performance but the engineers made the right decisions that evening and we made a good step on Saturday and Sunday.
“The prevailing feeling is that there is lots of homework to do to come back stronger with a car that can perform on a consistent level every weekend. I have the feeling that we are moving in the right direction but we need 24/7 shifts to achieve our ultimate targets.”
Looking back at the results from Sochi, Wolff was pleased with the way Bottas has dealt with the pressure of stepping up into the Mercedes seat vacated by 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg, with the Finn securing his maiden victory in Russia to prove to his doubters he has what it takes to be a front running driver.
“We expected Valtteri to develop through every single race and step up his performance and he’s shown that,” said Wolff. “He’s coped extremely well with his calm approach to setbacks. And he hasn’t been carried away with success.
“It came early in Bahrain with the pole position and then he had a setback in the race. He replied with an exceptional performance in Sochi, in just his fourth Grand Prix for Mercedes, and showed that he’s on the right path.”
Wolff was disappointed that Lewis Hamilton could not match the form of his team-mate throughout the weekend in Russia, finishing a disappointing fourth after failing to get the W08 working as he would have wanted to, something the team have been looking into ever since.
“On the flip side, Lewis had a difficult weekend in both qualifying and the race,” said Wolff. “We have spent our time since then unpicking what happened to understand why we couldn’t get the car in the right window so he could feel comfortable with it – there are no magic bullets to understanding that, just a lot of hard work and attention to detail.
“We must give him the tools he needs to do the job in the next races and that will be a big focus for us.”
Wolff is interested to see how Mercedes run at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend after experiencing a tough pre-season testing programme there, and expects another tough tussle for race honours with Ferrari, while he also expects Red Bull Racing to be part of the leading battle sooner rather than later.
“Barcelona will be interesting as our pre-season was not spectacular in Spain,” said Wolff. “It’s a very different track to Sochi and we’ll be running with harder tyres. We are taking this season one race at a time. If we deliver the best possible work from Friday onwards, then we’ll be ready to win and fight with Ferrari.
“This inter-team battle is a totally different situation that what we have seen over the last three years. You simply need to adapt to the challenge and that’s what we are doing, playing the hunter as well as being the hunted. At the moment there are two top teams fighting for both championships and I expect Red Bull will also eventually join the club.
“The small margins we are seeing this season are demonstrated by the closeness at the top of the Drivers’ championship and even more so by the one point advantage we have in the Constructors’. This fight will continue on to the end of the season and we will be prepared for that battle.”