Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff may have seen his world champion team claim victory in the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, but he still insists the “gloves are off” when the duel for supremacy with rivals Red Bull resumes on Sunday.
Valtteri Bottas gave Mercedes a pole-to-flag win at the Red Bull Ring last weekend as the 2020 championship finally roared into life.
However, teammate and world champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth after facing two protests from Red Bull on the eve of the race over his qualifying tactics.
Hamilton was relegated from second to fifth on the grid before a late collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon torpedoed his hopes of a podium, despite finishing second on the track.
“We were lucky to finish the race and reliability is a real concern. We are working it as our highest priority,” admitted Wolff.
But stung by the daily protests from Red Bull, he warned rival team chief Christian Horner and his team: “It’s serious now. Gloves off. No more nice stuff – we are in a real fight to win.
“So, in a short and intense season like this, with a yet to be determined number of races, every point is going to count.”
The second race of the season takes place at the same bio-secure Spielberg circuit nestled in the foothills of the Styrian Alps.
Not surprisingly, this weekend’s race has been named in honour of the spectacular mountain range.
Having watched from the pit-lane as Bottas claimed his third victory for Mercedes on one of his favourite tracks, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen wants better luck this weekend.
The Dutchman, forced to retire early from the Austrian Grand Prix with electrical problems, hopes to live up to Horner’s pledge that Red Bull will treat every race “like a cup final” by taking the fight to rivals Mercedes.
“We were a bit down on pace compared to Mercedes in qualifying last time,” said Verstappen. “So we definitely need to close the gap to fight them in that area, rather than on strategy.
“I was looking good for a podium, which I thought was easily possible because it was basically between Mercedes and myself on raw pace, but then you should also look at how the whole race panned out. We could have scored a good amount of points against Lewis, but it is what it is. We can’t change it so now I’m looking forward hopefully to a more positive weekend.”
Horner felt aggrieved by Verstappen’s misfortune and by Albon’s late clash with six-time world champion Hamilton, which cost the Mercedes driver a podium finish, as he was given a five-second penalty, but knocked the Thai driver out of contention.
This weekend, he is promising an even more aggressive approach than last – when Red Bull protested against Mercedes on every day of the Grand Prix – and said he is bidding for victory.
“Last week, I think a win could have been on the cards,” said Horner. “We were strategically sharp, very strong and it was a shame we won no points for it.
“Mercedes have done a good job over the winter, as we saw in testing. Engine-wise, they look strong, but I think the RB16 is a very, very good car. We hope to come back stronger. You need to go for every race – and treat it like a cup final.”