Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has reiterated that Sir Lewis Hamilton was the victim of unfortunate circumstances as he finished 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
George Russell out-qualified Hamilton on Friday before finishing ahead of his compatriot in the sprint race, and a superb start from the 24-year-old helped him to a fourth-placed finish on Sunday as the seven-time champion failed to score points.
When the race transitioned from a wet one to a dry affair, the 37-year-old was jumped by Esteban Ocon, Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly, but an unsafe release from the Alpine team earned Ocon a penalty.
Irrespective of that though, Hamilton simply could not find a way past Gasly as the Frenchman himself got caught behind Albon, and the subsequent DRS train compounded the fact that the Silver Arrows drivers were already having to lift off on the straights to avoid the excessive detriment of the “porpoising” caused by the new ground effect aerodynamics.
To rub salt in the wound, Max Verstappen lapped Hamilton just over 20 laps from the end, resulting in a “weekend to forget” for the former McLaren racer.
Wolff launched a defence of his driver after the race, highlighting the differences between running in clear air compared with driving in traffic.
“George got ahead thanks to his good start. Lewis got stuck in a DRS train,” he explained.
“He [Hamilton] was significantly faster than Gasly and Albon but you can’t overtake here without the top speed advantage, especially when there’s only a dry track. He just got stuck.”
The Austrian also stressed that the Mercedes crew had accidentally neglected to adjust Russell’s wing when he pitted for slicks, giving him too much downforce and not enough straight-line speed – something the Brackley squad appear to be lacking this year – and as such, the 50-year-old praised his younger driver’s marvellous efforts.
“George really drove well considering the car that he had underneath him,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“We missed on adjusting his front flap. That means he had a car that was set up for wet and not for dry and he held on well, really good drive.”
While Mercedes stumbled again last weekend, Verstappen and Sergio Perez secured a one-two for Red Bull as the Austrian outfit leapfrogged Mercedes for second in the Constructors’ Championship.