Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport boss Toto Wolff admitted that his team did not have the speed to beat Scuderia Ferrari at the United States Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton was denied the chance to clinch a fifth Drivers’ Championship crown by Kimi Räikkönen‘s victory as well as Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel‘s fights through the field to take second and fourth respectively. The Brit’s third place finish, coupled with team-mate Valtteri Bottas‘s lowly fifth, marked a testing day for the reigning champions.
Wolff praised Räikkönen’s win – his first for 113 races – and the overall spectacle provided across the field, numerous battles delivering “fantastic racing” for the enthusiastic crowd at the Circuit of the Americas. However Wolff hit back at the talk earlier in week that suggested that Ferrari were lagging far behind Mercedes, leaving the championship as a “forgone conclusion” – insisting that Mercedes were not subject to arrogance and complacency.
“First of all, congratulations to Kimi on his win today – it has been a long time since we saw him on the top step and it was great for Formula One to have him up there,” said Wolff.
“This was a day of fantastic racing, and a great show for the American fans with lots of wheel-to-wheel battles, but it wasn’t a good day for us at Mercedes.
“All week, we have heard people talking us up, talking Ferrari down and talking as if this season is a foregone conclusion; but that narrative doesn’t fit the reality of Formula One. We have been wary and respectful of Ferrari at every race this year and we knew they would come here to fight back hard – and so they did.
“It wasn’t a surprise against competitors of such strength.”
Despite a call to counter Ferrari’s strategy for the ultra-soft shod Räikkönen and bring Hamilton into the pits under the Virtual Safety Car on lap 11 that looked to have paid dividends, Mercedes struggled with tyre management. Hamilton lost around eight seconds stuck behind the Finn towards the end of the Ferrari’s first stint and could not take his soft compound tyres to the end – forced to make a second stop on lap 38.
Yet Wolff did not blame the strategy for the disappointing result, instead admitting that Mercedes did not have the balance of speed and tyre management. Hamilton almost managed to pass Verstappen around the outside of the Turn 16,17 and 18 complex late on, but ran out of road and was forced to abort.
“On our side, the story of the race wasn’t really one of strategy,” he added. “We didn’t have the balance of speed and tyre management that we would have needed to win this afternoon.
“When we were running second with Lewis and the VSC came out, we took the opportunity to off-set ourselves in order to go for the win – because it was going to be very tough to win by mirroring Kimi ahead. This looked pretty good for a while but we knew it would mean coming back through other cars in the final laps – and it didn’t work out.”
“He managed to close the gap but we gave him too big a mountain to climb, and the tyres no longer had the pace advantage he needed to pass in the final laps, in spite of giving it a pretty spectacular go against Max.”
Bottas struggled to keep pace with the leading trio, eventually surrendering fourth to Vettel on the penultimate lap as his soft tyres deserted him. Wolff referred to the race as a learning experience and said that Mercedes are eager to get “closer to [their] potential” in Mexico next week. In a similar situation to last year, Hamilton just needs to finish in the top seven at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to take a fifth world title.
“For Valtteri, though, we tried a one-stop strategy like the top two – and couldn’t make the tyres last either,” Wolff explained.
“So we need to learn the lessons from today, take strength from the pain of having been out-performed here and move on to Mexico determined to get closer to our potential in terms of the race performance. Nothing can, and nothing will, be taken for granted by any single member of the team.”