Toto Wolff felt the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team used a ‘get out of jail free card’ during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend as they left Italy still in the lead of both championships.
Lewis Hamilton salvaged a second-place finish at Imola despite finding himself facing the barrier midway through the race, with the Briton also setting the fastest lap to score a bonus point to keep himself ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship.
Team-mate Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare weekend, qualifying only eighth and then crashing out in a heavy accident involving Williams Racing’s George Russell while the duo were fighting for minor points.
Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, says the team are in for a challenging season in 2021, particularly with the challenge Red Bull have presented in the opening two races.
“Imola was a crazy race and the kind of grand prix that lives long in the memory: there were so many ups and downs and there were a few moments where it felt like we wouldn’t score any points at all,” said Wolff. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions, from the disappointment of Valtteri’s scary accident to the thrill of Lewis’ recovery drive.
“To come away leading both Championships almost felt like a get out of jail free card, because our rivals didn’t maximise the opportunity we gave them. And it just proves what a challenging season we have ahead of us and how quickly things can turn around in Formula 1.”
Mercedes finished first and second in last year’s Portuguese Grand Prix at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, but Wolff is expecting another close battle with Red Bull in this year’s event. He also does not think Scuderia Ferrari, nor the McLaren F1 Team will be far away.
“Last year was our first race in Portimão,” said Wolff. “It’s an exciting, undulating track and produced some great racing in 2020; we also saw in qualifying and the opening laps that getting the tyres working properly is not easy.
“It’s still quite a new circuit for everyone, which should make things interesting and mean we are learning all through the weekend.
“We’re expecting another close fight with Red Bull, and both McLaren and Ferrari could also be in the mix too. So, let’s see how things play out in Portugal.”