“A lesson to learn” - Wolff admits after Red Bull’s ‘flawless’ towing F1 tactics

Toto Wolff has admitted Mercedes has “a lesson to learn” after it was out-foxed in Formula 1 qualifying by Red Bull who used Sergio Perez to give Max Verstappen a slipstream at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director.
Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director.
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Verstappen secured a crucial pole position in the title-deciding race at the Yas Marina Circuit, nearly four-tenths clear of Lewis Hamilton.

At the start of Q3, Perez gave Verstappen a tow down to Turn 9, which was worth up to a tenth of a second.

While the slipstream wasn’t necessarily crucial in Verstappen securing pole, Wolff conceded that Mercedes should consider doing it themselves in the future despite not thinking it was viable due to the effect of dirty air.

“We generally have the belief that the slipstreaming, what we gain on the straights you lose in the corners because you’re simply too close and it’s very difficult to orchestrate,” Wolff said.

“I think the Red Bulls did it flawlessly today and credit to them how they did it and that gave them an advantage but that’s not the reason why we’re behind. We simply had no pace, not enough pace and Verstappen late on I believe they were not slipstreaming and still fast.

“A lesson to learn is that something we should consider in the future but today it’s basically 1-0 to them.”

Verstappen will be forced to start the race on the less durable, soft tyre, while Hamilton will be on the mediums.

The Dutchman tried to get through on the yellow-marked tyre but flat-spotted them with a lock-up into Turn 1 on his second lap in Q2.

Wolff remains hopeful that Mercedes has made the right decision with its strategy.

“I don’t know,” Wolff replied when he asked if he thought Red Bull were ‘playing games’ in Q2 with its tyre choice. “I have no idea but at the end, I hope to believe that starting on the soft is a disadvantage, it may not be, he may disappear into the distance with the soft in the first few laps and then you hold track position but on the other thing, there could be quite some degradation.

“The truth is, I don’t know what the plan was and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be tomorrow. It’s two different strategies and then see what works.”

Mercedes was the team to beat across the various practice sessions with Hamilton leading the way in FP2 and FP3.

Wolff pointed towards the change in track temperature as one potential reason for Red Bull’s improved competitiveness and why Mercedes struggled to get its tyres in the right window in qualifying.

“I think their car was very quick because you can see where Sergio is,” Wolff added. “He was competitive, he was right there, he’s P4 and although that was pretty compressed. I think they just tuned the car in a way that was very competitive in qualifying.

“It reminds me of the Jeddah pace which was unachievable for us and certainly they improved massively with the single lap pace.

“Maybe the ambient worked for them, it could a bit colder and this is why we were on the colder side of our tyre temperatures and that certainly didn’t help, we started to lock up and lose some time in [Turn] 5 and I believe it was [Turns] 12, 13.”

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