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Mercedes’ F1 woes drive Toto Wolff to attend Japanese Grand Prix in person
F1 Sport

Mercedes’ F1 woes drive Toto Wolff to attend Japanese Grand Prix in person

Toto Wolff has said the parlous ­fortunes of Mercedes compelled him to join his team on the ground for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, having originally planned not to be in attendance at Suzuka.

Heading into this fourth round, the optimism with which ­Mercedes had entered the season had long since evaporated and instead Wolff ­conceded in the buildup to the ­Japanese GP that he had to lead from the front on the ground, and opted to fly out and join the team.

Wolff, who led Mercedes through their eight consecutive constructors’ championships between 2014 and 2021, believed the team’s attempt to make a step forward with the car required him to be at the helm.

“I had planned not to come to Japan because there’s so much on back in Europe, things to do, but then I felt not coming to Japan was the wrong choice,” he said.

“I think it’s important to be with the race team also. It does me good also to be close to the action. We are experimenting with a few things and then being part of the team really gives me energy. I hope the other way around too. So that’s why I decided against staying in Europe.”

Mercedes have now struggled with their car for the third season in a row, having been comprehensively ­outpaced by Red Bull and in the opening races by Ferrari, then in Australia by McLaren. The car is unstable and unpredictable in differing conditions, with the team admitting that once more there was a lack of correlation between predicted performance in the wind tunnel and the reality on track.

In Japan Lewis Hamilton lambasted it as inconsistent, making it remarkably hard to drive with confidence. “It’s just different every single corner, there’s no way you can know to get it right,” he said. “Even if it was consistently different between low, medium and high, you could then get your mind around it, but it’s not. It’s just different in every single corner and at different yaw and different speeds. So it’s a challenge.”

The team are hopeful that research on ironing out some of the ­inconsistencies in performance will be made here in Suzuka, ­particularly ­relating to how the effects of changes in temperatures and wind can be ­minimised. That was at least in evidence after Friday’s practice which Hamilton described as “a great session – the best session that we’ve had this year. It was the best the car has felt this year so far, so it felt really positive and I was really excited.” His Mercedes teammate, George Russell, was also in buoyant mood: “We definitely performed better than we expected, so that was a pleasant surprise. Lewis and I were really happy with the balance.”

Wolff also praised Sebastian Vettel after the four-time champion, who retired in 2022, was connected with a possible return to F1 with Mercedes, with Hamilton stating he would love to see Vettel replace him when he moves to Ferrari.

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“Sebastian is someone that you can never discount,” he said. “I think his track record is phenomenal. And sometimes maybe taking a break is also good to re-evaluate what’s important for you and refine your motivation.”

Red Bull, however, look to be once more firmly in control after they ­suffered a setback when Max ­Verstappen, the world champion, failed to finish after a brake failure at the last round in Melbourne. The high-speed corners of Suzuka are exceptionally well-suited to their car, which enjoys superb balance, a vital advantage especially through the tricky first sector of the opening two corners, the Esses and the Dunlop curve.

They have also brought their first major upgrades of the season to Japan, with new cooling inlets and updates to the floor and brakes. ­Verstappen, who loves driving the ­circuit and has been the ­winner here for the last two years, was ­immediately up to speed, ­heading first ­practice on Friday, before the ­second session offered limited ­running because of rain.

Source: theguardian.com