Wolff: Ferrari thwarted by Q3 "double whammy"
Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff says that Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton outpaced Sebastian Vettel in Baku qualifying thanks to a “double whammy” of falling track temperatures and the Ferrari driver missing out on a tow.
Ferrari had been impressively quick in through practice, but ultimately lost out after Charles Leclerc crashed in Q2, and Vettel was unable to match his rivals in Q3.
The German was the first driver in the queue of cars going for a time, and thus had to complete his flying lap without a tow.
He was left in that situation in part because the Mercedes drivers drove down the pitlane and then pulled over and stopped just before the exit – obliging other drivers, including Vettel, to go past.
Vettel then overtook other slower cars in an attempt to complete a more aggressive out-lap in order to get tyre temperature.
Wolff explained that as the session dragged on, thanks to delays caused by two red flags for Robert Kubica's and Leclerc's respective crashes, the lower temperatures began to favour Mercedes rather than Ferrari.
“They were very quick yesterday and they were extremely quick in FP3 this morning,” he said of Ferrari when asked by Motorsport.com. “And that was something which we didn’t know how to solve, because the gap was big.
"When you see these kinds of gaps it’s never that the car has suddenly lost performance, because we know there is performance, but you’re just not having the tyre in the right operating window.
“And the longer the session went, the more we got it there. Towards the end, from a car that was not making the drivers happy in the morning, we ended up with a car in Q3 that was good.
“I think that we gained relative performance with the dropping temperatures. I think probably with the track and ambient of this morning, they were in a league of their own, and once it got cooler probably the competitive order changed.”
Wolff also acknowledged that the lack of a tow was expensive for Vettel.
“The tow effect is massive between, let’s say, a minimum tow following other cars, within a few seconds, which can gain you between one and three tenths, and the mother of all tows, which can gain you around Baku - maybe six tenths, it is a real disadvantage.
“Cars in front of you that just cut the hole in the air is really good around here, and advantageous. So I think it was a double whammy. He [Vettel] was out by himself, no tow, and the ambient temperatures came towards us. Our car got better the colder it went.”
Wolff admitted that stopping the cars at the end of the pitlane was a pre-planned piece of gamesmanship.
“Practice starts! You need to evaluate between trying to get a bit of a tow effect, and compromising your out-lap. And you can see how wrong it can go in Shanghai for some of the cars that weren’t able to cross the line.
“So in each of the qualifyings you saw a little bit of a pattern, and everybody waited for us to go out, and this time we felt we were going to try something else, and this is what we did. We decided this morning.”
The downside for Mercedes was that as the driver at the back of the queue Hamilton was not able to properly prepare his tyres.
“This weekend Lewis could decide who was running first, and for obvious reasons he decided Valtteri would be running first, but then when we bunched up behind everybody else…
“We didn’t expect so many cars going out right behind us, so Lewis’s out-lap and Valtteri’s out-lap were compromised. And you can see that Lewis lost all the time in Sector 1, and had a really good second and third sector.”
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