Toto Wolff was expecting Mercedes to be able to fight at the very front of the French Grand Prix and says the double-podium result won’t gloss over a lack of outright performance.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished second and third respectively after outperforming Sergio Perez in a straight fight, securing Mercedes’ first double-podium of the season.
But with Max Verstappen managing his pace and the team not in the mix for pole position, Wolff says he isn’t happy with the gap to the top teams at a track that should have suited Mercedes.
“I think second and third is great – two steps on the podium – and we scored solid points in the championships,” Wolff said. “And it’s encouraging that we are able to score these results on Sunday, but it’s just still very difficult for us to pin down where we have gaps.
“The truth is if everybody finishes where they should… We had the pace to go with Perez but [Charles] Leclerc shunted out … so we are third and fourth on track. Maybe with [Carlos] Sainz not starting at the back – but then an engine penalty is an engine penalty – but if you are pessimistic…
“I think Budapest is really going to be good for us, because Paul Ricard – a flat surface, not bumpy and fast corners – was not so good for us, so we have to have some sort of opposite thinking now that the track that shouldn’t suit us and isn’t great, maybe we can be good!
“But joking aside I have no idea. You come here with expectations of fighting at the front, you don’t, so I don’t know what to expect in Budapest.”
While Hamilton was able to sit comfortably in second place behind Verstappen at Paul Ricard, Wolff says the true pace of the Red Bull driver wasn’t seen and there are clear weaknesses that Mercedes still can’t find solutions for.
“He was able to stabilize the gap at five or six seconds in the first stint but you need to be honest and say that they were racing each other, and then in the second stint probably Max was just keeping it on the track. So in my half-empty glass perspective, there is still a lot of lap time to catch up.
“It’s simple, I think we’re lacking performance on a single lap and we’re lacking performance on the initial stages of the stint. So there’s something to understand and it’s not a silver bullet but it’s a few topics that play a role in overall performance. Second and third is a good result but we work tirelessly to win and there’s still a gap.
“I think the biggest asset is the culture that we have in the team. The new system of the team, it keeps us working with the right mindset and spirit when it’s difficult.
“The drivers are part of our culture and part of our mindset, and the drivers very rarely make mistakes, they squeeze the utmost out of the car, they’re clever – we’ve seen that [in the race] – and they never let go. They just never let go.
“Reliability has been a highlight of this team so far – I hope I’m not pre-empting – reliability is strong and we’re delivering solid work. It’s just that we need to understand how to unlock more performance in qualifying and the initial stages of the race.”