Bahrain GP: Mercedes admit they thought strategy would beat Ferrari
Wolff thought medium-tyre move had put Mercedes on near-certain course to victory so commends Ferrari for 'very deserved' win
By James Galloway in Bahrain
Last Updated: 13/12/18 12:02pm
Toto Wolff admits Mercedes thought their tyre strategy in the Bahrain GP had given them a "90 per cent" chance of beating Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari to victory.
Vettel said after winning Sunday's edge-of-the-seat race he feared Mercedes had placed Ferrari in "checkmate" once the world champions had responded to the German's pit stop for soft tyres by switching second-placed Valtteri Bottas on to the mediums - a compound more able to complete the remainder of the race without the need for another stop.
But with Vettel unable to pull away from Bottas in the second stint despite his tyre advantage, Ferrari initiated an emergency 'Plan D' and also kept the German out to the end in what turned into a mammoth 39-lap stint.
Bottas chased down Vettel in the closing laps but to no avail as the Ferrari hung on to win by under a second - a result Mercedes chief Wolff had not expected in the first laps after the pit stops.
"I think we had won the race already after coming out on the medium behind Sebastian with a gap that we were able to close down, knowing that they would either need to stop once again or they would run out tyre if we were to push them," the Mercedes boss told reporters, when asked if they could have done something different.
"This was the moment where I would say 90 per cent probability was on us winning and we lost that."
Having no fresh sets of the fastest supersoft tyres available for Sunday, and in any case having struggled on that compound through practice and qualifying, paddock conjecture before the race had suggested Mercedes might attempt a counter one-stop strategy to try and combat Ferrari's impressive weekend pace.
Once they had committed to the soft tyre for the second stint, and an apparent second pit stop, Wolff believes Ferrari took a "risk" by subsequently running to the end - but commended Mercedes' rivals for making the gamble work.
"We realised pretty early that the medium was a good tyre," explained Wolff. "We saw that on Alonso and then we decided to try the medium and see how it would be on our car, still with the option of stopping twice.
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"Valtteri immediately had very good pace so it was clear we could still make it to the end on the medium. But there was still a chance that Ferrari would do the same.
"This is taking big risks because at the end, Vettel's car was probably two seconds slower than Valtteri's, so if it would have been one or two laps later he would have lost the race. But 'would be' is not what counts, what counts is the race result, and Sebastian and Ferrari won it very deservedly. They adapted to the situation."
Given Bottas' superior speed and grip in the closing laps, Wolff said it was "frustrating" Mercedes could not take the final step and take the win from Ferrari, even if overtaking a driver of Vettel's calibre is "not a given".
"What was interesting to see was that maybe the pace of the Ferrari was not as good as we expected," he added.
"They were fuel saving straight from the beginning which for sure cost them performance and, with Ricciardo not there anymore, our pace was solid. It was solid on the supersoft, actually. I think we would have probably been able to go a little quicker.
"I don't know whether Sebastian started to fuel save, Kimi [Raikkonen] was pretty early on, but if he was not at that stage we were at least on the same pace on the supersoft. On the medium, our pace was very satisfying but we obviously didn't see that tyre on the Ferrari."