Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff has admitted that his “half-time” champions are struggling for supremacy and expects this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix to deliver another closely-fought three-way fight for glory.
Just days after seeing Lewis Hamilton claim one of the greatest wins of his career with an epic rain-soaked triumph in Germany, Wolff conceded that “in the cold light of day, we know and recognise that we didn’t bring the quickest car to Hockenheim.”
And, as a result, he said: “We all know that no prizes are given out for half-time champions, so will keep pushing to improve our performance.”
After 11 of this year’s 21 races, Hamilton and Mercedes sit atop the drivers and constructors championships, but only by a narrow margin, and Wolff knows that it will require another special effort in the expected sweltering heat of the Hungaroring for his team to head off for their European summer holidays as leaders.
“Hungary will be another tough fight with both Ferrari and Red Bull,” he said.
“It’s a high down-force track and on paper they should both be very fast. However, if there’s one thing the German Grand Prix taught us, it’s that predictions don’t determine results.”
After struggling for power at recent circuits, the Hungaroring’s layout and characteristics make Red Bull strong contenders for success because their car has the chassis handling that will enable them to compete at the front.
Daniel Ricciardo won the Monaco Grand Prix this year and has shown on the tight and technical circuits that he has the ability to deliver results, albeit with his team-mate Max Verstappen also representing a serious threat. He won in Hungary in 2014.
The Australian is expected to have his future with Red Bull resolved this weekend and another win, his third of the season, would be a timely confirmation of his and the team’s potential.
It would also not be an entirely unwelcome result for Hamilton or Mercedes if it deprives rivals Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari of points in the ‘fight for five’ titles that has dominated the season to date.
For Ferrari, the race will be overshadowed by the death of former chairman Sergio Marchionne this week as they attempt to bounce back from Vettel’s crashing, and pointless, exit in the rain last weekend.
Vettel’s misfortune allowed Hamilton to turn an eight-point deficit into a 17-points lead with his epic win from 14th on the grid.
But, he knows too, that despite having won a record five times in Hungary, this weekend’s contest will not be straightforward.
“It’s not usually our strongest track, but it’s not a power circuit so hopefully this extra chunk of power that Ferrari have doesn’t serve them as well there and maybe we can have a decent fight.
“They have always been really good on tyres it’s a hot track so, undoubtedly, they’ll continue to be fast, but I’ve still got high hopes.”
Ricciardo will go into the weekend well prepared, after taking engine penalties at Hockenheim for strategic reasons, but concerned about the power failure that forced him to retire.