Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff has warned his team isn’t planning to develop its 2021 car further despite a string of defeats versus main rival Red Bull.
A comfortable win at the Styrian Grand Prix – Red Bull’s fourth on the trot – extended Max Verstappen’s lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship to 18 points, while in the constructors’ race Red Bull has as many as 40 points in hand over Mercedes.
Hamilton cautioned in the immediate aftermath of the Red Bull Ring defeat that Mercedes “really needed an upgrade of some sort” – but when the question of continued development to the W12 was put to Wolff, he stressed that the team was already focused on 2022’s new regulations.
Asked specifically whether there would be no upgrades forthcoming, Wolff said: “That’s basically what I’m saying, yes. It is a very, very tricky decision because we are having new regulations not only for next year but for the years to come, a completely different car concept.
“And you’ve got to choose the right balance. And pretty much everybody’s going to be on next year’s car.
“Some may still bring stuff, Red Bull has vans Thursday and Friday with new parts. And fair enough, it’s a strategy, and one that proves to be successful as it stands, because today they were simply in a league of their own car pace wise.”
“Naturally we would love to have upgrades and improvements, but I don’t think that’s currently on the cards” :: Lewis Hamilton
Asked whether there was a risk that the title fight was effectively over without Mercedes adding new parts to the W12, Wolff said: “The championship is not only played with aerodynamic parts, because at a certain stage, even the ones like Red Bull who still keep adding parts need to switch all of the development into next year.
“And that means all the exploitation of the car around the set-up work, the tyres and the optimisation of how we are running will become a very, very important part.
“And it would make no sense to put a week or two or a month back on the current car, because the gains wouldn’t be anywhere near the gains that you’re making on the 2022 car.
“But having said that, this [the title battle] is far from over.”
Wolff said he and Hamilton “had the chat before” about upgrades and said the seven-time champion accepted that it was “rational” to no longer produce aero upgrades for the W12.
When asked whether he wanted to see ‘22 development resources diverted to this year’s car in the aftermath of his initial claim, Hamilton said: “I’ve got an incredibly intelligent, strong, and amazing group of people working behind me who take all those decisions and obviously have to try and balance out with this new cost cap.
“And naturally we would love to have upgrades and improvements, but I don’t think that’s currently on the cards. Of course when we do a debrief we’ll chat about it. But that’s how it is.”
The Styrian GP weekend has featured repeated references from Hamilton and Mercedes to Red Bull enjoying a straightline advantage, following the switch to new Honda power units at Paul Ricard.
In-season performance upgrades to engines are forbidden this season, but a gain in power could also come from a fresh power unit being run harder due to lessened reliability worries.
Asked by The Race whether Mercedes was hinting at a rule-breaching performance upgrade on Honda’s side, Wolff said: “I think in this sport we were not working with suspicions. It’s important to analyse the facts and the data and this is what everybody does.
“It’s very transparent how every team performs and we will be looking at every team’s performance, including Red Bull and ourselves, and then come to conclusions.
“But in a moment of defeat, the initial reaction shouldn’t be pointing fingers at anybody or looking to find excuses.
“They’ve done a good job, fact, and the second power unit that they brought has been really strong. And that can be only with reliability, if the first one had degradation.
“So, in summary, let’s look at the data, analyse and then see what that says.”