Toto Wolff: “We had the racing gods on our side”

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff explains the difficult circumstances that almost cost Lewis Hamilton entry into Q3 at the Russian Grand Prix Qualifying.

The first time Hamilton set in Q2 was deleted for exceeding track limits, while his next attempt was cut short due to a red flag that stopped the session after Sebastian Vettel crashed his Ferrari.

With only 2 minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the session Lewis had to drive as quickly as possible in his out lap to manage to get a ‘hot lap’ in. The Briton managed to start the lap with seconds remaining in the session and ultimately put his car on pole in Q3. However, it was very, very close. Toto Wolff says Mercedes was lucky in this situation.

“Sometimes, it’s the tracks where we perform well in practice, that prove to be the most difficult in qualifying and the race,” said the Austrian.

“That happened today with a very challenging qualifying session. We had a very strong car but almost stumbled over a red flag.

“I think we had the racing gods on our side that we were able to make it into Q3.

“It’s always impressive how Lewis manages to put it all together even if adversity is being thrown at him. He did a fantastic job to secure pole position.”

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Interestingly, before the session restart in Q2, Hamilton was not lined-up at the front of the queue at the end of the pit lane, but was waiting in the pit box for quite a long time.

Wolff reveals this was because Mercedes doesn’t have the option of turning off the engines and restarting them using MGU-K, something that Honda, Renault and Ferrari are able to do. Because of this, the team didn’t want to risk the engine overheating while waiting at the pit exit.

“The thought process was that we couldn’t send him out early because you need to switch off the car and then restart it on the MGU-K, which is something we can’t do,” explained Wolff.

“We felt that if he was at the back of the train and not able to do the outlap he needed to do then he could be caught out because the medium is simply not there yet.

“That’s why we put him on the softs, which is clearly a compromise for his strategy tomorrow, but was the necessary safeguard today to make sure he made it into Q3.”

The Austrian also turned to Valtteri Bottas, who lost his P2 to Max Verstappen in the last seconds of qualifying.

“On Valtteri’s side, we need to investigate what happened because he had a very strong Friday but FP3 went against him.

“The changes he made to the car for qualifying seemed to be right, but then he lost some performance in Q3. The gap doesn’t do him justice, so we need to look into what happened.

“But we are looking forward to an exciting race, with both drivers starting on different tyre compounds and a long run to Turn 2.

“Let’s see how it all plays out,” concluded Wolff.

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