Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has given his analysis into how the F1 world title race has flipped between his two drivers and says both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are feeling the pressure to perform over the final three races.
With Hamilton's victory in Austin the F1 drivers' championship deficit has been cut to Rosberg to 26 points with three races remaining, starting this weekend in Mexico.
Wolff feels momentum has switched between the two drivers equally over the past four races – including the momentum being with Hamilton at Sepang despite his engine blow-up – and says it will be tricky to predict heading towards the season finale.
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“Lewis produced an impressive weekend all round in Austin. After Suzuka, he went away, processed everything and came back stronger, which we have seen many times from him before,” Wolff said. “It was damage limitation for Nico, who is in a difficult position. He needs to look at each weekend at a time, which has been very effective for him this year, but also make sure he doesn't DNF. The pressure is on both in different ways.
“Nico was very strong in Singapore, Lewis in Malaysia, Nico again in Japan and then Lewis back on top in the USA. It keeps bouncing between the two, so I'm really curious how it's going to go from here. Then, there is the challenge from our rivals, which will intensify in the final few races.”
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Wolff conceded Rosberg in particular was gifted an easier race at the Circuit of the Americas thanks to a timely Virtual Safety Car which enabled him to pit without suffering as big a time loss compared to regular race conditions with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo charging on an alternative i strategy in third.
With Mercedes rivals continuing to gain, the team boss says the German manufacturer is already throwing preparations and thoughts ahead to 2017 having sealed the F1 world constructors' championship in Japan.
“We were fortunate with the Safety Car in Austin,” he said. “We had the pace - but Daniel Ricciardo in particular was very quick, so there is always a threat. The longer you leave the rules alone the more teams will converge on performance. Nothing in particular has changed on the chassis side over the past couple of years, so Ferrari and Renault in particular on the engine side have done a good job to close up to us.
“The game for 2017 has also already started, so when you throw all these factors into the mix we are looking at an exciting end to this season and the title battle.”
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