Wolff, Vasseur react to Mercedes and Ferrari’s fight for P2 in the constructors’ at F1 Abu Dhabi GP

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Toto Wolff believes Mercedes can be satisfied with securing P2 in the 2023 F1 constructors’ championship after a strong Abu Dhabi GP which yielded a podium finish for George Russell – and he outlined how the team enjoyed a “formidable fight” with Ferrari this season; whilst Frederic Vasseur was left ruing Ferrari’s missed opportunities throughout the season.

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Despite a difficult season which saw the team fail to win a race for the first time since 2011, Mercedes went one place better in the constructors’ championship compared to 2022, beating Ferrari to second place after a strong race in the Abu Dhabi season finale.

But despite its 4-point advantage heading into the race, Mercedes had to fight hard to keep the runners-up spot. With Leclerc finishing in second place, Russell’s third place and Hamilton’s ninth place were crucial for the team, as they finished just three points ahead of the Scuderia, with 409 points compared to Ferrari’s 406.

Speaking to selected media after the race, team principal and CEO Toto Wolff admitted the team went into the weekend at Yas Marina “on the back foot” considering Ferrari’s recent form, and pointed to set-up difficulties which meant a big disparity between the drivers, which affected both teams – as Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton both struggled to match the pace of their team-mates:

“I think we came to this weekend a little bit on the back foot when you saw Ferrari’s performances in the last few races,” said Wolff.“For whatever reasons, it’s so difficult to have the car in a sweet spot. You’ve seen that with Carlos, who was never there this weekend. And the same with Lewis.

“You have two guys fighting in the front. And I think George’s drive today was impeccable. Also in managing the gaps at the end.

“The fight with Ferrari is a formidable fight between these two great friends. A team that we respect a lot. And Charles [Leclerc] drove like a real sportsman at the end.”

When asked about the late-race fight between Leclerc, Perez and Russell, Wolff explained Mercedes didn’t initially expect Perez to be a factor in the battle, and praised Leclerc’s sportsmanship in not “pulling the handbrake” to hold up the Briton in the last few laps:

“Well, [Sergio] Perez for quite some time wasn’t really on the radar. I mean, we knew that they probably couldn’t hang out at one stop when he was ahead.

“And then, he came out 10 seconds, 11 seconds behind us. And at that moment, we only concentrated on ourselves and said ‘let’s extract the quickest race for George’.

“Bearing in mind, you need to manage the [tyre] surface [temperatures]. If not, you’re falling off a cliff. And then, yeah, we knew that we have to be within five seconds of Perez. But Leclerc was so far ahead that we didn’t believe that he could manage these gaps in order to maybe keep us behind.

“And at the end, he could have pulled the handbrake on in the last sector, and he didn’t. And I think that shows the character of a driver.”

The Austrian said the team will take finishing second “on the chin” and use it as motivation to come back even stronger for the 2024 season, in order to climb the “Mount Everest” which separates the Brackley squad from the currently all-conquering Red Bull:

“When you win on a day-to-day, [and then] you [get] P2, it reminds you that you lost P1. And I think we need to take it on the chin, be humble about it, and consider today as a good day.

“Nevertheless, you know, there is a Mount Everest to climb in order to catch up with Red Bull. I have no doubt that McLaren is going to be right in the mix next year. Maybe Aston Martin, maybe others.

“And so far, we must leave no stone unturned, which we do in Brixworth and in Brackley,” he said.“And as tough as it is to be reminded that it’s just P2, it’s also a great, great opportunity to come back and thrive for the start [of next season].”

Wolff says the team would have had “40% more” wind tunnel time compared to Red Bull in the first semester of 2024 had they finished third, but admitted it’s difficult to balance the prize money against aerodynamic testing restrictions:

“It’s better P2 for the money and for the bonuses of the people. It’s better P3 for the wind tunnel time.

“Yeah, [Ferrari] have 7% more than us now. And we would have had 40% more than Red Bull,” he said. “But you can’t get what you want. You want the bonuses and the more wind tunnel time. That’s it.”

On the other hand, ending his first full season as Ferrari team principal, Frederic Vasseur told selected media after the race the team did everything they could to slow Russell’s progress without being unfair, given the complexity of the task of managing the gaps in fine margins after Sergio Perez was penalised for his collision with Lando Norris:

“I don’t think [we were ‘too fair’] because you could imagine to block [George] Russell, but then you have to be sure that [Sergio] Perez is in between you and Russell.

“If you want to block Russell, it’s a matter of hundreds of seconds – do your best to give him the DRS, to try to help us out.

“I didn’t [initially] know [Perez was penalised], because on my screen I’m focusing on the dot of the car, and I didn’t see why Perez got the penalty and I had to ask to put it on my screen.

“Toto [Wolff] won’t complain that the stewards are too harsh in Abu Dhabi.”

The Frenchman was left disappointed and made an honest assessment of Ferrari’s missed opportunities throughout the 2023 season, but made it clear that the team won’t keep lamenting and judging things in hindsight.

“We started on the wrong foot with Bahrain,” he said of Leclerc’s engine failure at the season opener. “But when we had to stop, we were P3. And we get the penalty for the second race. It means that for Charles, it was almost 25 points of penalty after two events. And that’s it.

“Plus the points that we are giving to the others. With the two Mercedes we have behind us. It’s a plus four [points]. But again, it’s not on this one. You can do the list. Trust me that I did the list a couple of times.

“I have in my head a classification without the, let’s say, without the issues.”

The 55-year-old explained the team is “forbidden” from working with hindsight in mind, saying they are fully responsible for improving next season and that their fate is in their hands as they head into 2024 looking for their first world championship victory since 2008:

“I hate to race with ‘if’. Because everybody can race with ‘if’ and do a better job. It means that this is completely forbidden at the factory. To work with ‘if’. But it’s important [to understand]. It’s not to find an excuse at all. Because it’s your fault.

“It’s not that we are saying that ‘if this [had happened]’. All the ifs are in our hands. It means that it’s where we are. We have to improve, and it’s clearly a huge potential in the factory.”