Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Team Principal Toto Wolff says his team were ‘on the back foot’ during Saturday’s qualifying session in Austria.
Despite dominating the season so far, Mercedes had to settle for a little less in Spielberg after Scuderia Ferrari youngster Charles Leclerc beat the silver arrows to pole position.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton qualified in second place but, after an incident in Q1 with Alfa Romeo Racing driver Kimi Räikkönen, he received a penalty which left him being forced to settle for fourth place.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified fourth but gained an advantage following Hamilton’s error and will start Sunday’s race from third position on the grid.
However, both Mercedes drivers were blown away by Leclerc who snatched pole position for Ferrari at the Red Bull Ring with a lap time of 1:03:003.
And, following the impressive performance from Leclerc, Wolff thinks his team are facing an uphill battle on Sunday, “We could see from the first runs in Q1 that we were a little bit on the back food today – and we had to battle our way through every part of Qualifying this afternoon.
“We knew before the weekend that this would be a tough circuit for us, because its characteristics don’t match out strengths at the moment, and second and fourth is a pretty realistic result for us in that context.
“In the final part of the session, we saw some jostling to get the tow but we needed that today because we’re lacking the speed on the straights right now, and that was our best chance to improve the situation.”
Despite the disappointment of Lewis’ penalty, Wolff is looking ahead to Sunday’s race and already eyeing up opportunities where they can put Leclerc under pressure.
He added: “Regarding the incident with Lewis and Kimi in Q1, we will have to wait and see what the Stewards say.
“We know we start tomorrow’s race on what should be a more durable tyre, and hopefully we can run longer than Charles and open up some opportunities with our race strategy.”