Toto Wolff says Mercedes had no choice but to put Lewis Hamilton on the soft tyre to ensure he progressed into Q3 in qualifying for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

Hamilton’s place in Q3 was in doubt after he invalidated his first medium tyre effort in Q2, while his second lap was ruined due to a red flag caused by Sebastian Vettel crashing at Turn 4. 

With just under two seconds remaining, Hamilton was able to cross the line and set a lap in time to progress into Q3 where he ultimately went on to take his 96th career pole position.

Explaining why Mercedes didn’t send Hamilton out on medium tyres again in Q2, Wolff said: “The thought process was that we couldn’t send him out early because you need to switch off the car and then restart it on the MGU-K, which is something we can’t do.

“We felt that if he was at the back of the train and not able to do the outlap he needed to do then he could be caught out because the medium is simply not there yet.

“That’s why we put him on the softs, which is clearly a compromise for his strategy tomorrow, but was the necessary safeguard today to make sure he made it into Q3.”

Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas will start the race on the more durable medium tyres which should allow both drivers to extend their first stint and have a potential strategic advantage over Hamilton.

Wolff concedes Hamilton will have to “suffer” in the first part of the race but has no qualms if the reigning world champion has to do any overtaking as a result of an early stop in Sunday’s race.

“We were discussing it and it’s clearly not the optimum strategy because after some laps the soft is clearly going to suffer and that will compromise your whole race because you will need to pit into traffic and then it’s not a great situation,” Wolff added.

“But we know Lewis is the best overtaker in the field and I hope he can make the way back because he was the quickest driver on track today.”

 

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