After Mercedes' Brazil woes were followed up by misfortune and missed chances in Vegas, Toto Wolff is eyeing a podium return for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in Abu Dhabi to fend off Ferrari in the standings; watch Sunday's Abu Dhabi GP live at 1pm on Sky Sports F1
Wednesday 22 November 2023 07:09, UK
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is hopeful the team will have pace to return to the podium at this weekend's season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, as they aim to hold off Ferrari for second place in the Constructors' Championship.
Mercedes' advantage over their Italian rivals has come down to just four points - the same as it was after 2023's season-opening race in Bahrain back in March - after a Las Vegas GP race day which did not go their way despite the W14 showing much-improved pace compared to the race before in Brazil.
Lewis Hamilton, who finished seventh, twice lost ground in unfortunate collisions while George Russell saw fourth place turned into eighth by a five-second penalty for colliding with Max Verstappen.
Ferrari finished second with Charles Leclerc and sixth with Carlos Sainz, meaning they outscored Mercedes by 16 points to bring themselves into striking distance in the standings for Sunday's Abu Dhabi finale.
"Sad to say yet another time that we had pace but just no result," Wolff told Sky Sports F1 about Mercedes' Las Vegas GP.
"George after the incident with Verstappen, where he got the penalty, that was pretty much game over. [The car had] pace for the front. Maybe not [to challenge] Max, but behind. It is what it is."
On Abu Dhabi, Wolff added: "We have seen pace-ish today. I think we hopefully can recover and score solid podiums."
Two years on from the controversial conclusion to the 2021 drivers' title race in Abu Dhabi, when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton started level on points, Wolff, in a thinly veiled swipe at former race director Michael Masi, added to the written media: "We are going there pretty much on equal points - with a proper race director, so that should be fine - and let's race.
"It's all down to the last weekend. They are very quick, they have done a good job. I think we could have been on par [in the Las Vegas race] but the result shows something different. So let's race.
"To be honest, it's good to have P2 as a positive to finish the season, but P2, P3 for me, that it doesn't make it better for me."
|Two-car points finishes
With Red Bull totally dominant this season, Mercedes and Ferrari - the winners of 24 constructors' titles between them - have had to revise their pre-season targets downwards and each try and at least secure the next best position on offer, even if, as Wolff alludes, finishing second will ultimately not be cause for particular celebration.
But in addition to sporting pride, there are useful prize money considerations too - the difference between second and third in the Constructors' Championship is thought to be in the region of $10m.
Since overtaking fast-starting Aston Martin for second in the teams' standings at June's Spanish GP, Mercedes have seen their advantage over third place fluctuate amid the season's unpredictable race-to-race pecking order behind Red Bull.
Ferrari had been a season-high 56 points behind Mercedes after July's Hungarian GP but have whittled that gap down to just four in the 10 races since.
After a problematic start to the year, team boss Frederic Vasseur says the way the points gap has come down shows Ferrari are on a "good path". But he also made clear, that while Vegas went well for them, "Abu Dhabi will be another story".
"Four points is nothing or a lot," added Vasseur.
"We were able to perform in Monza, in Singapore, in Austin, in Mexico, during this weekend on different tracks with different race conditions, different [tyre] compounds, and we can be more than motivated before Abu Dhabi.
"The momentum is for us and let's see what happens."
The fight is a role reversal of last year when it was Ferrari who were defending second from Mercedes going into the Abu Dhabi finale, albeit holding a larger 19-point lead. However, the Scuderia outscored their rivals at Yas Marina to confirm the runner-up Red Bull.
Ferrari's superior straight-line speed will be critical again at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit, so they will be very quick in the first half of the lap which also features the Turn Five hairpin, where Max Verstappen overtook Hamilton in the controversial 2021 Grand Prix, and the Turn Six-Seven chicane.
One of Ferrari's biggest strengths is traction out of the slow corners, so they will even be a threat to Red Bull once again here.
It's the second half of the lap which features more flowing, medium-speed turns which should bring Mercedes back into play. However, the corners were opened up ahead of the 2021 race, so the final sector is not that technical anymore.
Overall, Ferrari are going to have the outright pace, particularly over one lap, and it's just a case of will there be enough tyre wear for Mercedes to come back at Leclerc and Sainz over a long stint.
Thursday November 23
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After the thrills of Las Vegas, Formula 1 heads to Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit for the 2023 season finale and another stunning spectacle under the lights. Watch the Abu Dhabi weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with lights out on Sunday at 1pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW