Sao Paulo GP: Toto Wolff on Lewis Hamilton's F1 qualifying exclusion, Max Verstappen on wing touch
Mercedes boss says Lewis Hamilton's exclusion from Friday's results was "in a way sad" as they were not allowed to fix W12; But delighted with Hamilton and winner Bottas' Sprint drives; Red Bull's Merc "suspicions" led to Max wing touch; Race live at 5pm on Sky Sports F1
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 14/11/21 3:26pm
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he "couldn't believe" the decision to send Lewis Hamilton to the back of the Sprint grid at the Sao Paulo GP, but says F1's world champions ultimately opted to "take it on the chin".
Hamilton's car was eventually excluded from the results of Friday night's qualifying session, when he had impressively set the pace, for a DRS wing infringement on his Mercedes car.
He ultimately made light of that setback by surging from 20th to fifth place in Saturday evening's sprint race.
Sunday's Grand Prix - where Hamilton now lines up 10th on the grid courtesy of an engine change penalty known since the start of the weekend - starts at 5pm live on Sky Sports F1 with build-up from 3.30pm.
The investigation ran into the hours before Saturday's sprint race and although stewards said it was clear that there had been no intent on Mercedes' behalf to contravene the regulations, agreeing that it was a case of something 'gone wrong' with the part, they still ruled there were no mitigating circumstances to avoid the disqualification.
- Hamilton stars after 'devastating' disqualification
- Bottas beats Verstappen in Sprint as Hamilton storms back
- Sao Paulo GP: Full Sunday schedule on Sky Sports F1
But Wolff said: "Until late this afternoon we believed it was ok because the wing was damaged.
"One side was ok, the middle was ok, the right side was not ok. That means we actually had a performance disadvantage and we thought that consideration of all these aspects, the FIA would say there was damage and therefore we weren't in breach of the regulations. They also said there was nothing that happened with intent from our side.
"Then we were reading 'disqualified' which, honestly, I couldn't believe. I thought [sporting director] Ron Meadows was joking when I saw the WhatsApp."
Despite starting last as a result, Hamilton raced back to fifth place in the 24-lap sprint race, which was won by Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes ahead of Max Verstappen.
Wolff added: "Strange things happen but you have to take it on the chin and that last 60 minutes of motor racing from Valtteri and Lewis brought all the enjoyment back with the frustrations that happened before."
As Wolff congratulated Hamilton over the radio on a "brilliant job" in charging back through the field, the Mercedes chief added: "**** them all."
"I didn't mean it towards any of the regulations," he said of his comment. "It's generally a mindset that we have.
"Yesterday the car was being tested and today two hours before the race we got the information that we were disqualified and that is in a way sad because there are procedures in Formula 1, there is a certain modus operandi and a protocol we have to follow.
"We failed consecutive tests by the tiniest margins and in the past that would have meant, fix it. We saw that with the Red Bull rear wing last weekend. The wing was simply damaged through the qualifying session.
"To be fair enough, the stewards did the job, we failed that one test and their argument needs to be respected. This is why we also decided not to appeal, for philosophical reasons, if the stewards decide you have to take it on the chin, and it goes both ways."
Verstappen on the incident that cost him €50K
The fierce on-track duel for the world title between Hamilton and Verstappen has been mirrored by the technical battle between their teams.
Claims and counter claims have flown all season long between Mercedes and Red Bull, with the respective rear wings of the cars and perceived straight-line speed advantages often the area of focus. The two teams have repeatedly denied the other's accusations.
In Brazil after qualifying, video footage shot by a fan emerged on social media showing Verstappen touching Hamilton's wing in parc ferme - a contravention of the sporting regulations triggered a stewards' investigation and later earned him a €50,000 fine.
Asked by Sky Sports F1 after the sprint what he had been looking at on the Mercedes, Verstappen said: "We have our suspicions that something is going on there. In the beginning of the year we all had to change our rear wings with the pillar back off.
"I think there is still something going on with the main plane what is opening up and giving them more top speed."
Hamilton suggested at May's Spanish GP that Red Bull were at the time benefitting from a 'flexing' rear wing. The FIA's deflection tests were later changed from June and put to him that Mercedes had questioned his team's car too this season, Red Bull boss Christian Horner said: "That's Formula 1, isn't it?
"Our rear wing, a technical directive came out that changed the testing procedure on that and obviously the wing was revised accordingly. Maybe we need another change to the test. There are a bunch of clever engineers; that's Formula 1. That's what the business is all about."
Sao Paulo GP: Sunday's live Sky F1 schedule
3.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday Live
5pm: THE SAO PAULO GRAND PRIX LIVE**
7pm: Chequered Flag Live*
8pm: Ted's Notebook Live
*simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event
**simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event from 5.30pm