Mercedes team boss Wolff candidly: ‘I’m worried about tomorrow’

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Toto Wolff expects a tough task for Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi. Now that the seven-time world champion will not start from pole position, he has to pass Max Verstappen somewhere during the race. That will be a difficult matter, also because the speed of Red Bull Racing on the various tire sets looked extremely strong. At Sky Sports F1, he will discuss after qualifying what the disappointing performance in qualifying means for the title aspirations of his star driver.

“It’s 1-0 for Red Bull. They got the tires to work and managed to give a successful tow with Sergio Pérez,” the Austrian analyzes the fast lap of title competitor Verstappen. With the Dutchman starting from pole position, it looks like Hamilton is going to have a tough afternoon. “They have an advantage at the start, but over the whole stint that advantage faded.”

Mercedes did not expect Red Bull to start on the red-rimmed rubber. That’s why the German team’s algorithms are put to work immediately after qualifying to map out possible winning race strategies. “Tonight we are going to run a lot of programs for that,” continues the team boss, who seemed a bit upset at Sky Sports.

Strong long runs from Verstappen

That Verstappen starts the race from pole position is bad news for Mercedes. So are the race simulations of the first two free practice sessions. Wolff: ‘I’m worried about tomorrow. Red Bull’s long runs looked much better. We just couldn’t get the tires warm in qualifying. In Q1 and Q2, we seemed to have the upper hand, but then we suddenly lost performance.’

The fact that the competitor starts softer on a compound will not affect the end result, predicts the Viennese: ‘Whoever is faster tomorrow will win the race, regardless of which tires they start on. Let’s hope we win tomorrow. Hamilton is going to hunt.’ At a certain point, that is possible on that medium band, although the condition is that the Briton has a good start. ‘If we can keep P2, that medium band is an advantage. The more spots you lose, the harder it gets.’

Overtaking Hamilton is going to be difficult

To win the Grand Prix, Hamilton has to make his way past Verstappen somewhere in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Wolff predicts that will be difficult: “They mounted the thin wing, so they also have a lot of straight-line speed. So it’s all going to be in the tire strategy.’ Strategically, Mercedes must outwit the Austrian competitors, otherwise it will be a difficult afternoon for Hamilton.

Especially because he can’t count on Valtteri Bottas’ backing. The Finn had a mediocre qualifying and was even trumped by a Ferrari in the final phase, which put him on P6. ‘That gap between P3 and P6 was a few tenths. A shame, because he could have achieved a better end result today’, concludes Wolff.

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