Mercedes are back in F1 title fight, declares upbeat Wolff after car upgrades

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Lewis Hamilton’s performance at the Spanish Grand Prix has given Mercedes belief that they can join the Formula One world championship fight this season. The team principal, Toto Wolff, heralded Hamilton’s charge from 19th to a fifth-place finish as indicative that they finally have a car poised to join Red Bull and Ferrari at the front of the grid and a tilt at the title.

Max Verstappen won for Red Bull in Barcelona and has taken a six-point lead in the title race after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc failed to finish due to a power unit failure. Behind him however this was by a country mile the best performance Mercedes have returned all season.

Related: F1: Max Verstappen wins Spanish GP after Leclerc is forced to retire –as it happened!

Britain’s George Russell took third place with a gutsy display praised by Wolff and Hamilton delivered another superb recovery drive. The seven-time champion came through the field with pace he believed would have been sufficient to let him challenge the Red Bulls had he not dropped back after being clipped by Kevin Magnussen on the opening lap. Pitting with a puncture immediately afterwards Hamilton returned to the field 50 seconds off the lead and 38 seconds from the nearest car.

Mercedes had brought a swathe of upgrades to Barcelona intended to solve their porpoising – the car bouncing due to a ground effect downforce stall – and they worked. With the problem largely eliminated, Wolff finally had cause for optimism.

“Can we fight for another world championship? Well we bet we can,” he said. “We just need to have a car able to finish first and second. We have reasons to believe we can get there. If you look at the odds they are against us but motor racing is a different ball game. We saw on Sunday that Ferrari did not score a lot of points although they should have, so we are absolutely pushing flat out to bring us back into the game.

“I have seen a car that reminded me of the race cars of previous seasons. Where you are 30-plus seconds behind the whole field and you come all the way to the front and near the podium. That is very encouraging and shows we have made another step.”

The Mercedes cars in Spain.
The Mercedes cars in Spain. Photograph: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Mercedes trail Red Bull by 75 points but their performance differential to previous races this season could not be more marked. At Saudi Arabia, after qualifying in 16th Hamilton could make it only to 10th. Having started 14th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola he could make no headway, lacking the pace and stability in the car to pass and finishing 13th.

In Spain it was a different story. He cut through the field including during a final stint on soft tyres passing Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz. Indeed he had made fourth place only to have to let Sainz back past as he was forced to ease off because of a water leak in the final laps.

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The drive was a feat that Wolff believed proved Hamilton has lost none of his motivation. “A driver who comes back from 38 seconds behind the last guy, storms to the front, posts the fastest consecutive lap times and ends up in P5. That shows his quality mindset and determination,” he said.

Russell too demonstrated the steps forward Mercedes have made and his brilliant defence against Verstappen earned high praise. “We were third with George and that is strong,” said Wolff. “His driving was unbelievable. The defending, the positioning, I am so proud and happy to see that. A great driver in the making.”

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