Mercedes Formula 1 team principal Toto Wolff is putting up a brave front despite Max Verstappen’s Red Bull dominating the Mexico City Grand Prix, as Great Britain’s Lewis Hamilton followed him home in second position on Sunday evening.
Wolff said that anything was still possible in the remaining four races of the season.
Wolff was delighted on Saturday when Valtteri Bottas took a surprise pole position ahead of Hamilton for Mercedes’ first front-row lock-out in Mexico since 2016.
But Bottas’ Mercedes was way off the pace and Hamilton kept resisting Sergio Perez’s pressure to come home second, finishing over 16 seconds adrift of Verstappen, as the Dutchman swelled his championship lead to 19 points over the Briton, the seven-time world champion.
“I think it was damage limitation for Lewis and it was a really tough,” said Wolff, “but a great drive, to be honest, to hold onto second. Probably we were only good enough for P3 but he managed to hold onto second,” said Wolff after the race.
“When we came here we didn’t expect to beat Red Bull and therefore the qualifying result on Saturday came as a surprise,” Wolff added.
“Probably they went backwards and we went forwards, but the reflection of the pace differential is what we saw in the race. The win was never on for us and that’s why taking P2 means winning P2,” said the Mercedes team principal.
For Bottas, though, Wolff was cautiously optimistic. “On Valtteri’s side, as good as it was on Saturday… it started to go wrong with Turn 1. Then obviously the rim got stuck on the axel (in the pit stop) and then from then on it was really taking that one point away from Max, (which) was not a huge consolation.”
Bottas managed the fastest lap late on, stealing that point away from Verstappen before finishing 15th. The Finnish driver also had to endure an 11.7 second pit stop at one point, which compounded his misery in Mexico.
Red Bull also outscored Mercedes 40 points to 18 in Mexico, bringing them within one point of the Silver Arrows in the constructors’ standings.
But Wolff affirmed that the tide had not started to shift towards Verstappen and Red Bull with four races — Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi — to go.
“We leave here, the circuit that we probably regarded as one of the worst ones for us,” Wolff was quoted as saying by formula1.com.
“We are going to Brazil that wasn’t much better in the past but at least we believe that we can have a solid car there, more close to Red Bull than what we had here.
“I am a pretty realistic person but I love motor racing as anything can happen,” he added. “None of us is ever going to leave this circuit here with the mentality of this is going away from us. There is four races to go, there’s four wins to take, four DNFs to suffer and we will just continue fighting.
“We know that we have a great team. Our car was exceptionally good in Turkey and I think we have all to win. When you look at the mathematical probability then I would rather be 19 points ahead than behind, but it is what it is,” said Wolff.