Toto Wolff says the Malaysian Grand Prix was another eye-opener for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, as they found themselves as the third fastest team behind both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton finished second in Malaysia and Valtteri Bottas fifth, but Max Verstappen took his first win of the season for Red Bull, while both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were the fastest cars all weekend long but suffered technical issues on their Ferrari’s across the weekend that prevented them from running at the front.
Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, says the tougher times in Formula 1 show the real strength of the team, and they can be extremely satisfied with how the 2017 season has gone, despite a few races where they have not been the fastest team on the grid this year.
“In sport, it’s in the tough times that you really see the strength of a team,” said Wolff. “Our championships in the past three years have come because we have never taken success for granted and, even in the good times, we were able to put our finger in the wound and work on our weaknesses.
“After Malaysia, we have found ourselves doing the same: analysing our problems, beginning to understand their causes and working on solutions. However, this is not the work of a moment. While we work to improve in those areas, we must not forget the many strengths we have shown this season.
“Our car has taken more pole positions and race wins than any other and we lead both championships – thanks both to the strength of our own performances and, in part, the misfortune of our rivals. But every point counts, no matter how they come to us.”
Wolff admits his drivers have been having very different experiences of the W08 in recent races, with Hamilton having won three of the past four races, while Bottas, although he has finished inside the top five in all of those events, has not been at the same kind of pace as his team-mate.
Despite this, Wolff expects Bottas’ character and talent to overcome this difficult time, and he hopes he can turn his form around this weekend in Japan.
“Lewis has made the most of every opportunity in recent weeks; he has been in fantastic form, particularly since the summer break, and is driving with a perfect balance of aggression right now,” said Wolff.
“It has been a more challenging picture for Valtteri and it is a priority for us to give him the car he needs to perform – and to help him extract everything from it. It is not an easy time right now but this is the time for his strength of character, work ethic and natural talent to shine through.”
Wolff admits that historically Mercedes have performed strongly at Suzuka in recent years, but 2017 has proven time and again that history means nothing, and it will be up to them to perform at the top of their game in order to beat the challenges from Ferrari and Red Bull this weekend.
“The next challenge comes in the form of Suzuka, a circuit which will ask very different questions of our car than Sepang,” said Wolff. “In the last years, we have performed very strongly there.
“But recent weeks have reminded us that historic form counts for little with these 2017 cars and tyres. It is a circuit which rewards Grand Prix cars and drivers performing at their very best – and we expect a very close fight between ourselves, Ferrari and Red Bull.
“As a team, our targets for the final quarter of the season are very clear. It is entirely in our hands to make sure we achieve them.”