After seeing Lewis Hamilton secure pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday, Toto Wolff believes the tiniest variation in set-up this weekend is having drastic efforts on lap times, as was seen with Valtteri Bottas being down in fifth.
For the first time all weekend, the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team showed some front-running pace, with Hamilton setting the fastest time ever seen around the Sepang International Circuit with a 1:30.076s, while Bottas was 0.682 seconds back after running with a different aero package.
Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said the team have been struggling all weekend to get the Pirelli tyres to work, and it took an amazing job from Hamilton to take his seventieth pole position of his career.
“So far this weekend we have seen a pretty confusing picture of performance, with different cars quick at different times and even big gaps between team-mates,” said Wolff.
“Our struggle has been to get the tyres into the right working window, then things came together this afternoon as the track temperatures cooled. After a tough Friday, the team here at the track and back at base did a good, calm job to analyse the situation and come up with some improvements. 4
“And then, when it really counted, Lewis was able to put together a blistering lap to take pole – something we didn’t expect at all going into qualifying. It was really a great job from him.
“Valtteri found it harder today but it’s clear that tiny differences in set-up or tyre temperatures are making a big difference in lap time, and it didn’t quite come together in Q3.”
Wolff believes Scuderia Ferrari will be the team to beat on race day, even if championship contender Sebastian Vettel will start at the rear of the field following an engine issue during qualifying.
Kimi Raikkonen will line-up second on the grid, and Wolff is under no illusions that Sunday’s race will be as strong for Mercedes as Qualifying turned out to be.
“There’s no doubt this session was also a tough moment for Ferrari, with Sebastian unable to take part, but there are no points scored on Saturday,” said Wolff. “They have had the strongest race pace this weekend and will be a serious threat in the race.
“We can’t pretend that we have all the answers right now, but we can be pleased with the outcome today and are ready to fight hard in the race.”