Toto Wolff says the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team are ‘excited’ by the challenge of fighting Red Bull Racing on track in 2021 after watching Max Verstappen deny his team pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s final flying lap was almost four-tenths of a second better than the best Lewis Hamilton could achieve at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday evening, while Valtteri Bottas was two-tenths further back in third.
Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport and Team Principal of Mercedes’ Formula 1 team, says the fact six different teams were represented inside the top ten showed just how competitive 2021 is likely to be, so they will need to be better than good to have the kind of results the team has been used to during the turbo hybrid era.
“We are very excited to have a real fight on our hands,” said Wolff. “Six different teams in the top ten today and it’s clear that simply being “good” will not be good enough this year.
“But in the final year of these regulations you need to push the needle further to not only beat Red Bull but also some of the other teams. It’s just what the doctor ordered!”
“At least we know the performance we need to find going forward” – Andrew Shovlin
Andrew Shovlin, the Trackside Engineering Director at Mercedes, admits it is a disappointment for the team to be so far behind Verstappen and Red Bull in the opening Qualifying session of the season.
Shovlin says that it has been apparent that Mercedes have been struggling for performance throughout testing and going into Qualifying, but everyone is working hard to address the shortfalls in the W11.
“It’s disappointing at the first race to be looking at a 0.4s gap to pole but at least we know the performance we need to find going forward,” said Shovlin.
“It’s also no secret that we’ve been struggling with the car around this circuit; it’s nowhere near as easy to work with as the W11 but everyone in Brackley and Brixworth has been working hard since the test and we’ve learnt a lot about the W12 and found a more predicable balance, even if we’re lacking overall pace.”
Despite qualifying second and third, Shovlin reckons the improvements the team has made across the weekend and since pre-season testing in Bahrain should see them in with a chance of taking victory, particularly as they have an advantage when it comes to available tyre sets compared to Verstappen.
“We’d wanted to get both cars onto the medium tyre to start the race which we managed to quite safely,” he said. “Valtteri was a bit compromised in the final session by having used an extra soft in the first session but overall, it was good effort by the team and drivers, and should put us in a strong position for tomorrow.
“It’s hard to read where we are on race pace from the Friday long runs as we didn’t land the car in the right window but we’re fairly confident we’ve improved the rear grip so it will be less of a handful in the race.
“We might not be on pole but we have two cars at the front and an extra set of the hard tyres, so hopefully we can create some opportunities from that.”