Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport boss Toto Wolff has said that Sunday’s “brutal” Azerbaijan Grand Prix ended with a “bittersweet feeling” for the team.
Lewis Hamilton claimed his and Mercedes’ first victory of 2018, however, Valtteri Bottas suffered the heartache of losing an almost certain win after suffering a dramatic puncture with just four laps to go. The Finn ended up fourteenth in the final classification but did not take the chequered flag.
“That was just a brutal race,” said Wolff. “And probably exactly the kind of Grand Prix that fans want to see, with twists and turns at every point.”
Wolff hailed the under-fire Bottas for a “perfect race”, stretching the super-soft tyres he started on to over 40 laps in order to utilise an alternative one-stop strategy.
“In the garage, it was a real rollercoaster of emotions for the whole team and I am really pleased to see us get our first win of the season with Lewis,” Wolff added. “But equally, I am incredibly disappointed for Valtteri who drove a perfect race.
“We went from looking like scoring a solid double podium, to suddenly having the possibility of a one-two before it was snatched away from us with Valtteri’s puncture, to still winning the race.”
The Austrian also said that Hamilton deserved his change in fortunes after losing the race victory in Australia thanks to a software glitch and a poorly timed Virtual Safety Car period. Hamilton struggled to catch Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel – the leader until his first pit stop on lap 31 – locking up at Turn 1, running deep and ruining his set of super-soft tyres in the process. Wolff admitted that this forced Mercedes into an alternative strategy for the reigning world champion.
“For Lewis, I guess that his luck has come full circle after the misfortune earlier in the season, and it’s probably fair to look at today as him getting back the win he lost in Melbourne.
“The race began pretty quietly, with clean starts for our guys and then everything unfolding steadily. Lewis got caught out with a gust of wind under braking, flat spotting his first set of tyres. This forced him to stop on lap 22 and take the soft compound to the finish.”
Praising Bottas once again, Wolff said that the Finn increased his pace throughout his long first stint allowing Mercedes to keep him out. The 46-year-old made note of the Safety Car period caused by Aston Martin Red Bull Racing pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo‘s contentious collision that consequently aided Bottas and Mercedes. Bottas kept the lead he inherited after Vettel locked up making an ambitious move at Turn 1, relegating the German to fourth.
“Valtteri stayed out and was just getting faster and faster,” he explained. “We stayed on track because he was building the gap to Vettel, and perhaps had a chance for the win with a late charge on ultra-soft, when the Safety Car came out for the Red Bull accident.
“We pitted both cars and, after Sebastian’s mistake on the restart, we were set for the one-two finish when Valtteri hit a piece of debris that was on the track.”
The detritus that Bottas hit is believed to have stemmed from a previously missed incident between Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen on the pit straight, the 28-year-old seeing his right rear tyre dramatically deflate and cause additional race-ending damage to the W09‘s chassis.
Wolff described the post-race feeling as “bittersweet”, and said that Mercedes have plenty of work to do in order to take a fifth successive Constructors’ Championship.
“Clearly that perfect result wasn’t meant to be today in such an unpredictable race,” he concluded.
“So it’s a bittersweet feeling: fantastic to get the win on the board and to be leading the drivers’ championship, but also disappointed because the quickest guy DNF’d with a puncture – and because we know there is still work ahead of us to improve the pace of the car in what will be a close three-way fight for the rest of the season.”
Courtesy of his victory, Hamilton took the lead of the Drivers’ Championship for the first time in 2018 and Mercedes now trail Ferrari by a mere four points in the Constructors standings heading into the real start of the European season.