Toto Wolff believes Mercedes had the quicker car in the French Grand Prix but got its strategy wrong, allowing Red Bull to gain the advantage and the eventual win.
Max Verstappen started from pole position but lost the lead after an error at Turn 1, leaving Lewis Hamilton in control. However, the first round of pit stops saw Valtteri Bottas come in first, Verstappen cover the undercut in response and then Hamilton pit a lap later but lose out to the Red Bull, something Wolff says his team was not expecting.
“Car performance was good. I think we had the quicker car, probably,” Wolff said. “We lost the race at the stop. Thinking that we had enough protection against the undercut, which we didn’t. We had a solid three-second gap to protect against the undercut and that wasn’t enough as it looks and from there on we were on the back foot, actually.
“The fight between the three cars was intense at the front and I think you then basically had to opt to continue with the one stop or the two. The two stop was a danger for us because (Sergio) Perez was in the way, and we got it wrong.”
Perez ran long in the first stint and was closing in on the top three in the second half of the race, and Wolff believes having the second Red Bull in contention makes Mercedes’ life a lot harder.
“Absolutely,” Wolff said. “If Perez wouldn’t have been in the window we would have at least with one car opted for a second stop and early, then basically put the other Red Bull car in a difficult situation. So, at that stage you have four cars that are racing each other.
“We always knew (his threat). He was always in the window, and he wasn’t far off. I mean, he was obviously not in contention for the podium at the beginning but they were able to go long and that proved to be the right strategy to go back to the podium.”
Max Verstappen's brilliant overtake is even better with the Dutch commentary! 😅
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 21, 2021
Although beaten, Wolff’s comments that Mercedes had a quicker car could be taken as reason for optimism, but the Mercedes team principal is more concerned by Red Bull’s improvements.
“It was a tough fight but I don’t see it as a positive,” Wolff said. “They have made a huge step forward with their power unit, introduction of the second power unit, and their race car is good, no doubt about that. That’s why it’s a tough one this year.”