Mercedes boss Toto Wolff praised Haas for developing a competitive car and considered it interesting to be battling them in midfield. The Austrian believes the Banbury-based team has done a commendable job of producing a car that is challenging the eight-time world champions.
Speaking at the team principals’ press conference ahead of qualifying, Wolff said:
“Haas has made a huge jump from being last, the way they were into being, having been solid and into Q3, I think, in Bahrain. So that’s an interesting step. For us, it’s a learning exercise, because as an organization, we have 2000 people and we’ve been successful in the past, and suddenly you’re fighting a team that’s much smaller in size. So, they must have done a super job.”
For a team operating on shoe-string budgets, Haas has taken the battle to Mercedes in the last couple of races. Wolff believes the American-owned team has punched above its weight, which is a lesson for his team.
Describing their current situation in terms of performance, Wolff said:
“I’ve been in this situation before in life, and you just need to be humble about it. When I said last year with the new regulations, how things were set up, that we could have a different pecking order. And this is exactly what’s happened. Like Fred [Frederic Vasseur, Alfa Romeo team principal] said, the midfield is very, very compressed and we’re just not quick enough, full stop.”
According to the Silver Arrows squad leader, his team does not have an edge over the midfield of the grid, which is extremely competitive. The Austrian also claimed that he expected the new regulations to change the pecking order of the grid, as he spoke of last year.
Mercedes has found some pace but not enough to be front-runners
Mercedes' trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin revealed that his team has found some pace but it might not be enough to compete with Red Bull or Ferrari. According to the British engineer, the Silver Arrows have a long way to go before they can fight for wins again.
Worried about their pace deficit against the front-runners, Shovlin said:
“We found a bit of pace overnight with the changes and were able to get the tires in a better temperature region today but there wasn’t much left in the car. The gaps to Ferrari and Red Bull are still worryingly large but not a surprise to us - we’ve known since Bahrain that we have a mountain to climb this year and the team is getting stuck into that challenge.”
On Friday, their two drivers barely managed to reach the top-10 of the field. In race pace, Lewis Hamilton was almost a second slower than Max Verstappen’s Red Bull on the medium compound tire. Even Alpine looked competitive on Saturday, with Fernando Alonso putting up a pole-worthy flying lap.
Outlining their expectations for the weekend, Shovlin said:
“We’ve focused on our race pace this weekend so hopefully we have good degradation but our hopes are quite realistic, we’re wanting to be there to capitalize on any mistakes or issues for Red Bull and Ferrari but we know we won’t be able to stay on the back of them.”
Although Hamilton qualified fifth, followed by George Russell in sixth, the Mercedes W13 slacked off in the second and third sectors of the circuit due to severe porpoising and balance issues. In a performance-wise grim situation, Shovlin believes their prime opportunity to snatch points relies on their rivals or other teams performing badly.
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