Getty Images

Wolff: Inter-team battle poses new challenge for Mercedes

2 Comments

The scorecard is equal at two wins apiece between Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes AMG Petronas through four races to kick off the 2017 Formula 1 season.

This is a fun stat because each of the last three seasons, there’s only been at the most three races per year Mercedes hasn’t won – and just eight races total. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won three apiece in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and Ricciardo and Max Verstappen won once apiece for Red Bull last year.

The consistent fight with Ferrari is pushing Mercedes harder than ever to kick off 2017, and it’s a challenge Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff seems to be relishing.

“This inter-team battle is a totally different situation that what we have seen over the last three years. You simply need to adapt to the challenge and that’s what we are doing, playing the hunter as well as being the hunted,” Wolff said in Mercedes’ pre-race advance ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

“At the moment there are two top teams fighting for both championships and I expect Red Bull will also eventually join the club. The small margins we are seeing this season are demonstrated by the closeness at the top of the Drivers’ championship and even more so by the one point advantage we have in the Constructors’. This fight will continue on to the end of the season and we will be prepared for that battle.”

Valtteri Bottas overachieved in Russia to score his maiden Grand Prix victory, defending against Vettel as the race wound to its conclusion. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton struggled for pace in a rare “off weekend” and was left to finish fourth, behind the pair of Ferraris.

Wolff said Mercedes feels it should be better this weekend at Spain with the first round of upgrades set to come.

“The prevailing feeling is that there is lots of homework to do to come back stronger with a car that can perform on a consistent level every weekend,” Wolff said. “I have the feeling that we are moving in the right direction but we need 24/7 shifts to achieve our ultimate targets.”

Of course, there’s also the matter of how Mercedes rebounds this race after its dramatic first lap coming-together between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg last year, in the race that ended its quest for a perfect season, and the race which saw Verstappen claim his maiden Grand Prix win with Red Bull.

It’s not something Wolff addressed in his pre-race Q&A, but Wolff’s praise for both Bottas’ performance and Hamilton getting the right tools this weekend will be key to Mercedes erasing its one major error of its 2016 season.

The Spanish Grand Prix runs from 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, on NBCSN, with pre-race coverage beginning an hour earlier at 7 a.m. ET.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.