Toto Wolff says the lack of pace Mercedes has shown throughout the French Grand Prix weekend so far is “a bit of a slap in the face.”
Mercedes had a very strong run at Silverstone and was targeting another competitive performance at Paul Ricard due to the track similarities and further upgrades being introduced. With Lewis Hamilton 0.9s off pole position and George Russell over a second adrift of Charles Leclerc, Wolff says he has no explanation as to why Mercedes is so far away from the top two teams in terms of pace, even if both cars are in the top six.
“Expectation management is a bit of a thing this year, because we were slowly but surely working our way back to the front-runners,” Wolff said. “There were good signs in Silverstone. Then we went to Austria — a track where we are normally not competitive at all — but we were close. It was a one minute circuit and we were 0.3s off in qualifying, so that was successful.
“Then we brought quite a nice update package to Paul Ricard — a track that’s smooth — and off we go to hunt them down and then no performance…like, no performance. We can’t figure it out. We can’t figure out what went wrong.
“We experimented with rear wings, from almost the biggest we have — which Lewis described as dragging a parachute behind him in the morning — to a smaller version that makes us lose too much speed in the corners. Then we were experimenting with tire temperatures and you can see we are now 0.7s to Verstappen – the Ferrari lap is a bit of an outlier with the tow here with Sainz — but if you would have told me we were 0.7s to 0.9s [off] — that’s a bit of a slap in the face.”
Wolff says it’s not clear where Mercedes is struggling because of the way the performance appears to switch around from one session to another.
“I wouldn’t know whether it is the aero per se, but we are seeing in one session we are totally uncompetitive in the first sector, to Q3 where we are the best in sector one and the opposite in the last sector.
“Clearly there is something happening, whether it is wind-affected or tire performance, where the car is on the edge and between hero and zero there is a super fine margin that we don’t understand.”