Japanese GP: Toto Wolff admits Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will face ‘challenges’

Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are hoping for a strong result in Japan, but Toto Wolff has fired a warning.

Mercedes go into this weekend’s first Japanese Grand Prix since 2019 on the back of a bitterly disappointing Singapore Grand Prix, where Sir Lewis Hamilton finished ninth and George Russell came home in P14.

The weekend was looking so promising for the Silver Arrows, who are still searching for their first victory of the season.

Hamilton unbelievably topped his first session of the season, after setting the fastest time in FP1 at the Marina Bay Circuit.

Russell too, looked strong; however, saw his qualifying end in Q2 after what appeared to be an issue, perhaps to do with why he was given a new power unit for the race at Singapore.

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The same couldn’t be said for the seven-time World Champion, who brilliantly qualified in third, just under a tenth behind Charles Leclerc on pole.

Whilst Russell was forced to start from the pitlane, Hamilton was looking set for a potentially very strong race; alas, it wasn’t to be.

The Brit dropped to fourth into the first corner, before crashing into a barrier on the exit of Turn Seven on Lap 33.

By the time he’d pitted for a new front-wing following endplate damage, the 37-year-old had fallen from fourth to ninth.

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He momentarily got into eighth following a mistake by Max Verstappen at the same corner; however, by the end of the race, a second error by Hamilton allowed Verstappen back past.

Hamilton’s error on Lap 33 ultimately ruined his race, with the British driver immediately apologising to his Brackley-based team.

“I’m so sorry about that guys. I f**ked it up big time,” Hamilton said over the team’s radio.

Given where Hamilton qualified, it’s hard to believe that Mercedes scored just two points from the Singapore GP, which saw them fall to 69 points behind Ferrari in the battle for second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Whilst it was, of course, a highly disappointing weekend for the Silver Arrows, team principal Toto Wolff is trying his utmost to remain positive, after believing there were “glimpses” of the W13s “potential”.

“It was a very difficult Sunday for us in Singapore,” said Wolff.

“There were still some positives to take because we saw glimpses of the car’s pace and potential.

“But we couldn’t convert that into points in the race itself, although the car showed it was competitive in free air.

“We’ve had plenty to debrief and analyse over the past few days and many learnings to take forward. Thankfully we can move quickly onto the next race and a new challenge for us to tackle.”

The team had been working in a strong direction prior to their unfortunate result in Singapore, with the 50-year-old aiming for his German side to “rebuild the momentum” they lost last weekend.

The circuit isn’t expected to suit Mercedes, with Wolff warning fans that it’ll be “hard to repeat” qualifying under a tenth off pole position.

“Our target is to rebuild the momentum we had before Singapore and capitalise on the positive underlying performance of the car,” added Wolff.

“There are still five opportunities to score good points and end the year strongly.

“Suzuka will give our package some challenges, and it will be hard to repeat the qualifying performance we saw in Singapore – but I hope that will be balanced out with a stronger Sunday afternoon.

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“F1 hasn’t been to Japan since 2019 and the team is really looking forward to being back. It’s such a special track; one of the most challenging for both man and machine. And we’ve missed all the brilliant Japanese fans, too.”

It remains to be seen if Wolff will actually be present this weekend, with the Austrian having initially planned to skip the Japanese GP.

However, following the leak that Red Bull have supposedly been found guilty of exceeding the 2021 budget cap, Wolff is reportedly considering attending this weekend after all.