Coming into the French Grand Prix weekend, the smooth track surface and long straights of the Circuit Paul Ricard were expected to work in Mercedes’ favour as they hunt their first win of the season.
However, by qualifying, they had been trying all sorts of different set-ups to figure out how to maximise performance, without truly making a dent on Red Bull and Ferrari’s advantage.
The German side have struggled throughout the 2022 season to find performance in their misbehaving W13, but Sir Lewis Hamilton dragged the car to fourth in France on Saturday, while George Russell qualified sixth behind McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Given Carlos Sainz’s pace before his penalty was applied, that likely would have been fifth for the seven-time champion, but Mercedes have to be thankful for small mercies right now as they look to consistently perform.
Four consecutive podiums in Baku, Montreal, Silverstone and Spielberg were signs that the Silver Arrows were creeping back up but, alas, the car is not always giving them the results they expect at every race.
“Expectation management is a bit of a thing this year because we were slowly but surely working our way back to the frontrunners,” said Wolff, quoted by GPFans.
“There were good signs in Silverstone, then we went to Austria, a track where we are normally not competitive at all and we could clearly see the signs why we were not competitive, but we were close.
“It’s a one-minute circuit and we were three-tenths off in quali, so that was acceptable.
“So we brought a nice update package to Paul Ricard, the track is smooth, off we go, and boom – no performance – and we can’t figure out what went wrong.”
The German side had tried out various different rear wing designs, one of which gave Hamilton so much drag it felt like a “parachute.”
“We experimented with rear wings, from almost the biggest we have, which Lewis described as dragging a parachute behind him, to a smaller version which makes us lose too much speed in the corners,” added Wolff.
“Then we were experimenting with tyre temperatures, and you could see it [the gap] went from seven tenths to 1.2 seconds so that is a bit of an outlier.”
Despite finding a set-up that they felt would best suit them, Hamilton still ended up nine tenths of a second off polesitter Charles Leclerc, which Wolff described as a “slap in the face.”
Hamilton and Russell are now even at 6-6 in the qualifying battle as the seven-time champion begins to grow ever more confident in the car.