Wolff ‘baffled’ by ‘nasty surprise box’ Mercedes

Toto Wolff has been left baffled by Mercedes' poor performance in São Paulo last weekend

Toto Wolff has been left baffled by Mercedes’ poor performance in São Paulo last weekend. Image: Russell Batchelor/XPB

Toto Wolff has described the performance by Mercedes over the course of last weekend’s São Paulo Grand Prix as “a nightmare” that has left him baffled.

After Lewis Hamilton finished runner-up to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen over the two previous weekends in the United States and Mexico – albeit disqualified from the former due to excessive skid wear on the W14 – the seven-time F1 champion found himself struggling to pick up minor points around Interlagos.

Hamilton finished seventh in the sprint, and likely would have been passed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo in his AlphaTauri within a lap or two, and eighth in the main event, 62 seconds adrift of Verstappen.

With George Russell fourth in the sprint and retiring with an overheating power unit in the grand prix, team principal Wolff described the overall weekend as personally his worst in 13 years.

Wolff was at least able to point to other anomalies this season with competitors’ cars, such as Aston Martin’s dip in form with its AMR23 that gave Fernando Alonso six podiums in the first eight races, or Red Bull’s at-odds weekend in Singapore, the only blemish on Verstappen’s run of 15 wins in the last 16 grands prix.

Conversely, McLaren has gone the other way, from a car that was “not making it out of Q1 sometimes”, said Wolff, to one that is “now hunting Max”.

“It (the car) is sometimes a nasty surprise box for all of us,” suggested Wolff, whose team “got it probably as bad as some of the other teams got it”.

Wolff has made clear there will be a fundamental redesign of a car Hamilton cannot wait to see the back of, and with the team boss already wishing it was the start of the 2024 campaign.

“At least we have no expectations, or at least we know it confirms that the trajectory of changing fundamentally is right,” added Wolff.

“Last year, we came out of the Interlagos weekend and we were absolutely on top of our game, demolishing the competition on Saturday and Sunday.

“Back then it was like ‘Are we doing the right thing by continuing with the chassis that we had?’

“Now it’s pretty clear. This feels horrible for the whole team, and I wish we could start the new season and concentrate on the new

“What we know is that we’re changing the car completely, and we are an outlier, an outlier compared to the last eight years where we’ve been in the front, solid, with the structure and the people to perform at the front.

“Winning championships or not, that’s on a different piece of paper but it (São Paulo) more confirms that the steps that we did are necessary.”

The bottom line is Wolff cannot understand why the W14 behaved so differently from one weekend to another, describing it as “baffling”.

“From a really quick car, really well balanced, with our drivers happy, to a nightmare,” said Wolff. “How Is that even possible? What is it that’s not right?

“I wouldn’t be surprised that when we analyse the cars there was a mechanical issue in the way we set them up or the way…I don’t know what that could have been.”

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