Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has admitted that his team’s deficit to Red Bull has been amplified by “losing a little bit on the engine side” to Honda.

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix by almost four-tenths of a second in qualifying on Saturday.

Mercedes has been left chasing lost performance after F1’s new rear-floor rules hit the reigning world champion outfit harder than Red Bull, but Wolff revealed after qualifying that its disadvantage goes beyond just aerodynamics.

“I think we're losing on the high speed,” Wolff explained. “We can clearly see there's a deficit.

“We're losing a little bit on the engine side in terms of derates. We are not yet in a happy place with our energy recovery. But it's not one single point where we can say this is a big gap.”

Honda has been rewarded for its hard work on fast-tracking a brand new power unit originally intended for 2022 with the Japanese manufacturer set to bow out of F1 at the end of the year.

Its performance gains were clear to see in qualifying, with both Red Bull and its sister team AlphaTauri enjoying strong competitiveness in Bahrain.

Ahead of qualifying, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost suggested that Honda’s power unit progress had brought it “very, very close” to Mercedes’ class-leading engines.

Wolff accepted Honda has done a “great job” and conceded Mercedes must work harder than ever to get on top of the engine derating issues it has faced around the Sakhir circuit.

“Honda has done a great job," he said. "They have delivered the power unit which is extremely competitive - look at where AlphaTauri is - and we just have to take it as sportsmen.

“You just have to say they've done a really good job, full stop. There is just no other solution than to recover. And I believe that on the derates that you see, this is something that we just need to get on top of. That is not easy, but we'll get there.”

Asked if he was surprised to see that Honda has put so much effort into developing a brand new engine for its final year in F1, Wolff replied: “No, I’m actually not at all surprised.

“I think Honda is a very proud company and I was convinced they would give all the power to have a great power unit in the final year as a works team.

“And I think they left no stone unturned, and no resource unutilised, to finish the job properly, so it's good motivation for us and I'm happy for them.”

 

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