Wolff rejects favorite tag despite record start

Images by Etherington & Hone/LAT

Wolff rejects favorite tag despite record start

Formula 1

Wolff rejects favorite tag despite record start

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Toto Wolff says he won’t allow his Mercedes team to believe it’s the dominant force of 2019 even after claiming an unprecedented fourth successive one-two finish to open the season.

Valtteri Bottas led home teammate Lewis Hamilton to complete a perfect clean sweep of the four races to date, a feat never before achieved by a constructor in Formula 1. Bottas and Hamilton have evenly split the victories between them, with Valtteri one point ahead in the drivers standings courtesy of his fastest lap in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Despite Mercedes’ seemingly effortless start to the year, Ferrari has entered all four races as the nominal team to beat after the Italian squad’s impressive preseason testing form, but after four races of failing to convert that promise into results, the paddock mood has shifted toward again recognizing Silver Arrows as the sport’s undisputed benchmark.

Team principal Wolff (pictured above celebrating in Baku) rejected the idea that he’s been underselling Mercedes’s potential, contending instead that circumstances have played a role in delivering his team an advantage.

“What can I say? We are not talking ourselves down,” he said. “It is that we see a strong Ferrari on Friday and on Saturday — and I still believe that Charles (Leclerc) was probably the fastest man on track today but, like in Bahrain, it didn’t come together.

“I think that what we did in the first races was put all the things together. The team didn’t do any mistakes, the strategy calls were right, the drivers didn’t put a foot wrong, and that made us win the first four races.

“Then when you look at the other side, they had more problems.”

Wolff insisted the competitive picture is still too close to call.

“You can see the fluctuations of the performances,” he said. “Ferrari’s performance in Bahrain was in a league of its own. Ours was in Melbourne and in China. Here yesterday they were good, us not so much.

“What I can see is that the overall order doesn’t seem to have changed — it’s still the same protagonists — but I think that the first four races have flattered.”

Speaking specifically about the result in Baku, Wolff said his team superiority was down to the unusual tire situation on the unique super-fast street circuit.

Keeping the tires up to temperature has always been difficult in Azerbaijan, where the long front straight works to cool the rubber without any subsequent fast, high-downforce corners to warm them up again, and Pirelli’s thin-gauge 2019 compounds appear to have exacerbated the problem. This, combined with the new aerodynamic regulations, made setting up the cars for the Baku City Circuit extremely difficult.

“Remember yesterday in FP3 where we were 1.6 seconds off the pace? We didn’t do anything different, we just didn’t have the tire in the right window,” Wolff said. “Then it was about seeking the right compromise between qualifying and the race.

“Even today (Max) Verstappen was the quickest guy on track at the end, [but then there was a] virtual safety car and the tire doesn’t come back — he’s struggling to put heat into the tire and generate grip.

“When you had a tire for a long time and all your data and your simulations are based around a certain compound and a certain structure and then suddenly that changes from one year to the other, all your learnings are basically not so relevant anymore.

“So it is also about adaptability — the team that learns quickest to understand the new circumstances.”

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