Toto Wolff is expecting Mercedes to be challenged again this weekend
Toto Wolff has said Mercedes expect another close fight with rivals Red Bull at the Portuguese Grand Prix this weekend, who he believes failed to capitalise on his team’s issues last time out.
Mercedes head to Portimao at the top of the Teams’ Championship, courtesy of Lewis Hamilton’s second-place finish at Imola two weeks ago.
However, this has not been the start to the season the Northamptonshire-based team would have expected. The season-opener in Bahrain saw Hamilton fight off a charging Max Verstappen for victory, before sliding through the gravel at the Tosa Corner at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The seven-time world champion was then forced to fight his way back from ninth up to second.
His team-mate Valtteri Bottas has had a mixed start to his campaign. The Finnish driver was third at the Bahrain International Circuit, but a difficult weekend at Imola saw him qualify down in eighth.
A duel with Williams’ George Russell for ninth ended in disaster, with the 200mph crash red-flagging the race and the extensive damage has left little room in the $145 million budget cap to introduce upgrades later in the season.
Despite this, Mercedes remain at the top of the teams’ standings on 60 points, seven points ahead of Milton Keynes-based Red Bull, while Britain’s Hamilton heads the Drivers’ Championship, one point ahead of 23-year-old Verstappen.
“To come away [from Imola] leading both championships almost felt like a get out of jail free card, because our rivals didn’t maximise the opportunity we gave them,” Wolff said.
“It just proves what a challenging season we have ahead of us and how quickly things can turn around in Formula One.”
He added: “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.”
Max Verstappen won the second race of the season with a dominant display in Italy
Heading into this weekend, Wolff said they were expecting Red Bull to be at the front once more alongside McLaren and Ferrari.
“We’re expecting another close fight with Red Bull and both McLaren and Ferrari could also be in the mix too.
“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.”
Formula One returns to the Algarve International Circuit, where the 36-year-old Hamilton will be hoping to recreate his previous success. The Stevenage-born driver claimed his record-breaking 92nd victory at the venue last year, as he draws closer a century of wins.
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