Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff puts his team’s loss of performance relative to Ferrari at the Chinese Grand Prix down to not getting its tires working in cold conditions.
With Lewis Hamilton having been quickest in both Friday practice sessions, Ferrari hit back on Saturday with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locking out the front row by over half a second. Valtteri Bottas will start from third ahead of Hamilton, and Wolff believes the deficit can be explained by the much colder temperatures seen on Saturday in Shanghai.
“A car doesn’t lose or gain speed from one race to another, from one day to another,” Wolff said. “The fundamental base from the car is good; we lost because it’s about getting the tire in the right temperature window – the never-ending story. And what we’ve suffered in the past, from overheating, has happened the other way around today.
“We’ve always been too much on the cooler side and that has triggered a lack of grip and today you can see Ferrari has the tire in the right window – it seems their car is like on rails, similar to what we had in Melbourne.”
Sunday’s race is expected to take place in warmer conditions with track temperatures set to double, and Wolff says Mercedes took that forecast into account when setting its car up for the race.
“Tomorrow will be the proof of concept. If not, we have to understand. But I think that the forecast is for quite some different temperatures, some 20ºC [68F] hotter track temperature. It’s a long race and that could make quite a difference. We have looked at tomorrow, but we have to see whether that proves to be right.”
Having labeled last year’s temperamental car “a diva” at times, Wolff admits there are similar tendencies with the 2018 car as it has a small working window when it can access very high performance levels.
“We had a bit of a diva again today. But I don’t think that she’s the diva, I think that she is – I need to find a different word – a capricious woman. I think that when we hit the sweet sport the tire temperature our car is great. But we haven’t hit the sweet spot today.”