Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says watching his drivers’ performances in the Brazilian Grand Prix sprint race helped him “forget the politics” he felt were behind Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying.
Hamilton was fastest on Friday at Interlagos but had to start the sprint race from last after part of his rear wing failed a post-session test by 0.2mm, most likely because of damage inflicted during the session.
While he charged from 20th to fifth in the sprint, team-mate Valtteri Bottas used soft tyres to pass poleman and Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen at the start and then win the race to qualify on pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Wolff was upset by the disqualification because he felt Mercedes had not been offered the usual leeway that is applied to small technical discrepancies caused by failures.
That may be because a separate Red Bull query into Mercedes’ rear wing put the FIA on alert and prompted a stewards referral rather than a private instruction to Mercedes to fix the issue for the rest of the weekend.
“Sometimes after the greatest frustrations with Formula 1, you see this awesome [race] with Valtteri totally in control – we made a great car, good strategy, good straightline speed, and he was just brilliant and not even letting the other guy close.
“And as for Lewis, coming back, I think he did 15 overtakes – I don’t know how many other overtakes there were overall in the race – to finish fifth.
“Certainly it’s great to forget the politics for a moment and just watch great racing.”
Wolff said there was “disbelief” in the team at the stewards’ decision to disqualify Hamilton from qualifying.
Mercedes was convinced the FIA would determine the likely cause was damage, that there was no intent to break the rules and therefore there would be no breach.
But despite the first two elements being correct, the stewards opted not to consider mitigating circumstances as they claimed “no obvious evidence” to prove the part was damaged – evidence Mercedes claimed could have been shown had the FIA not refused to let the team assess the wing during the investigation or indeed the rest of this weekend.
“I couldn’t believe it, I thought that Ron Meadows was telling a joke when I saw the WhatsApp,” said Wolff.
“Strange things happen, but you have to take it on the chin and the 60 minutes of motor racing from Valtteri and from Lewis just brought all the enjoyment back with all the frustrations that happened.”
Bottas beat Verstappen to the sprint race win despite having to hold on in the final laps as his soft tyres struggled more than Verstappen’s mediums.
Mercedes reckons that bodes well for Sunday as it suggests its cars are not suffering as badly with rear degradation as in the last two races.
However, Wolff acknowledged that the increased temperatures forecast for Sunday will present “a different game”.
“The utmost feeling with Valtteri out there disappearing in the front like he did in Turkey and Lewis coming back is the feeling that I enjoy the most at the moment,” said Wolff.
“Now we know that it’s been swinging from one day to the other. But this reminded me why I love this sport.
“Everything is possible and we have a car starting on pole tomorrow and another car starting at P10 that would have been P6 [at best].
“I think we have a good package, we have a car that is fast, and everything to play for.”