Toto Wolff admits to ‘slap in the face’

The Mercedes F1 Team qualified P4 and P6 via Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell at the French Grand Prix.

The Mercedes F1 Team appear to have taken a step backwards at the French Grand Prix, after Sir Lewis Hamilton qualified almost a second behind polesitter Charles Leclerc at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

Hamilton was the top Mercedes on Saturday, something which has been a rare phenomenon this season, with team-mate George Russell usually dominant in qualifying.

Russell was over a second slower than Leclerc’s pole-time, and will start Sunday’s race from sixth-place.

The Brit made a mistake on his final lap, resulting in British compatriot Lando Norris managing to get ahead and line-up in P5.

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Hamilton believes that Red Bull Racing and Ferrari are in their “own league”, after being shocked at how far off Leclerc’s time he was.

“My last lap was great,” Hamilton said.

“I finished it and thought that was an awesome lap, but I was still 0.9s off the guys ahead.

“I am not sure why that gap has got bigger than the last two races – they [Ferrari and Red Bull] are in their own league performance wise.”

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Mercedes’ pace is a real shock to both the team and the drivers, who were all expecting this weekend to be a much stronger one.

The German team brought some floor upgrades for the French GP, which have once again left the team completely lost for words.

Team principal Toto Wolff revealed that the team “can’t figure out” why they are suddenly falling behind so much, again, admitting that to be so slow is a “slap in the face”.

“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 and then we went to Austria – a track where we are normally not competitive at all – and we were close.

“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 out.

“We can’t figure out what went wrong. We experimented with rear wings, with 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 tyre 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 told me we would be 0.7s to 0.9s off the pace ahead of the weekend then that would be a bit of slap in the face.”

The W13 appears to be a complete diva, with the car seemingly being slow in certain corners during some sessions, and then being incredibly fast in the same areas in others.

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Wolff knows that “clearly” something is fundamentally wrong with the W13, but that at the moment the team “don’t understand”.

“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 and then in Q3 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 tyre performance, where the car is on the edge and between hero and zero there is a super fine margin that we don’t understand.”