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Mercedes no longer the favorite in F1, Wolff says

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Mercedes is no longer the favorite in Formula One, and that is something the team needs to get used to.

The Silver Arrows head into this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix after a dire performance at last month’s Monaco GP. Valtteri Bottas finished fourth while three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton only managed seventh.

Worse still, Ferrari finished 1-2 with Sebastian Vettel beating Kimi Raikkonen. After six races, Mercedes trails Ferrari in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships – a big change after three years of total Mercedes dominance.

“Historic success doesn’t translate into current performance,” said Toto Wolff, the head of motorsport at Mercedes. “We have to fight with all that we are worth for every single win, pole position, podium finish and every point. You can no longer expect that, when you look at a timesheet, the two Mercedes will be right at the top.”

Hamilton headed into this season chasing a fourth title. But the British driver trails four-time F1 champion Vettel by 25 points, and with a less reliable car than the German’s slick Ferrari. Hamilton also failed to get on the podium at the Russian GP, finishing fourth.

“It’s painful, but we are not the favorites for this year’s championship. At the moment it’s Ferrari,” Wolff said Tuesday. “They have a very strong package and we need to rise to the challenge to prove once again that we are the team to beat.”

While the Ferrari is cruising, the inconsistent Mercedes is struggling to find the right balance between front and rear axle. That remains an ongoing worry and also impacts on tire strategy. Mercedes botched their tire choices in Monaco practice, leading to a very difficult qualifying session.

“Everybody at the factories is working absolutely flat out to assess the current difficulties we are facing,” Wolff said. “Some of these fixes will be short term, others may take longer.”

Mercedes hardly needs further glitches in Montreal. It is a demanding track made up of high-speed straights and tight corners, where drivers slam on the brakes for nearly 20 percent of the race.

“It could be a tricky race for us in terms of the layout of the track,” Wolff said. “But, equally, it’s a circuit that suits both of our drivers. Lewis has won a number of times in the past.”

Hamilton has won the two previous races in Canada driving for Mercedes, and in 2007, ’10 and ’12 driving for McLaren.

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”