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Mercedes: Toto Wolff on reasons for optimism for F1 team despite 'not good' Japanese GP result

"We are going away from Suzuka not happy with the result, but definitely there is more to come," insists Mercedes' boss after the team take heart from work understanding their car; F1 2024 continues with the return of the Chinese GP on April 19-21, live on Sky Sports F1

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Highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix from the Suzuka Circuit.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has explained why Mercedes have taken encouragement from their Japanese GP weekend despite their "clearly not good" result at Suzuka.

The former champions' disappointing start to the season with their much-changed 2024 car continued at the season's fourth round with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton qualifying and then finishing the race outside of the top six.

That leaves Mercedes fourth in the Constructors' Championship, one point ahead of Aston Martin, and their team principal Wolff said: "When you look at the results - seventh and ninth in qualifying and seventh and ninth in the race - that's clearly not good and everybody knows that.

"But we have definitely made a big step forward in how we want to run the car and in our understanding.

"This was one of the worst tracks for us last year and we were pretty close [this year] to the front runners, not Max [Verstappen], but the guys behind in qualifying. That came a surprise. We were very quick through the Esses whereas last year we were nowhere."

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Lewis Hamilton went on the team radio to ask if he should let team-mate George Russell through, who appeared faster at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Wolff was left particularly encouraged by the W15's late-race pace on medium tyres after they had abandoned plan for a one-stop strategy with both cars after the car's "atrocious" first-stint pace on hards.

"We were trying to make a one-stop stick, probably over-managed the tyres, and had an atrocious first stint but a very competitive second and third stint the moment we basically did what the others did. That would have looked completely different.

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"So seventh and ninth, just not good. Full stop. There is nothing to add, nothing to make rosy. But I think we are going away from Suzuka not happy with the result, but definitely there is more to come."

Wolff believes Mercedes have discovered previously unseen 'limitation'

So what has led to Mercedes' encouragement about the W15 in the wake of their work on track across the Suzuka weekend?

"The car is so complex for us where we put it in terms of the aero balance and the mechanical balance," explained Wolff.

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Bernie Collins and Damon Hill break down Mercedes' weekend in Japan as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both fell short of early expectation.

"These two need to correlate and we have followed a certain trajectory over the last years and keep turning in circles and came to the point of saying 'ok, we've got to do something different here' because we are measuring downforce in the sensors and pressure tabs and it's telling us we have 70 points more downforce in a particular corner in Melbourne than we had last year but in lap time it's not faster in kph.

"So it doesn't make any sense. So where is the limitation? We wanted to tick some boxes to understand if there is a limitation we haven't spotted, and I think there is."

Elaborating on what that meant, Wolff added: "We have measured the downforce and it's there, but we are not able to extract the lap time out of it but it should and that simulations show us. And it's not trivial."

Fighting back with Ferrari and McLaren 'realistic target'

While Mercedes felt their car was more competitive through Suzuka's fast sweeps compared to F1's last visit in September, the picture at the absolute front of the field was identical with Max Verstappen dominating the race to beat the first non-Red Bull car by a 20-second margin.

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Ted Kravitz is in the paddock to review all the biggest stories from the Japanese Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion has won three of this season's first four races - retiring from the one he did not in Australia when he would have been in contention for another win without mechanical problems - and despite Ferrari's 2024 step forward Wolff predicted: "No one is going to catch Max this year.

"His driving and the car are just spectacular. You can see the way he manages the tyres.

"Basically this season now is best of the rest, that's the fight that's on. Hopefully we can catch up to the McLaren and to the Ferraris and fight for P2. This is what it is this year, and what it was last year, and we had a P2 last year.

"If your expectation is to eventually race for wins and championships, then you can say we are in a bit of a no man's land because Max and Red Bull are far ahead and then we are in this bunch. But it's not satisfying for any team that is fighting for P2, P3 or P4. Then it's some of the smaller teams."

Constructors' Championship top five so far

Team Points Best result
1) Red Bull 141 1st (x3)
2) Ferrari 120 1st
3) McLaren 69 3rd
4) Mercedes 34 5th
5) Aston Martin 33 5th

In relation to Ferrari and McLaren, who are 86 and 35 points respectively ahead of them in the Constructors' Championship after four rounds, Wolff expressed confidence that it was a "realistic target" for Mercedes to harbour hopes of fighting back towards them this season.

And while aware of the challenge ahead, the Mercedes team principal, who guided the Brackley-based team to a record eight consecutive constructors' championships on the spin in an unprecedented era of dominance before F1's technical rules were overhauled in 2022, also made clear they had not accepted they would have to take an absolute back seat to Red Bull until, at the earliest, the next big regulation change coming in 2026.

"I've always said that if I was to look from a pure sporting point of view, P1 is what matters and not P3, P3 and P4," he said.

"But this is a reality we are facing at the moment and we are trying to do the best out of this new reality, and that is to beat our direct competitors, whilst acknowledging that somebody is just doing a better job and setting a benchmark that we eventually need to set ourselves again with our ambition to win races this year - and I wouldn't want to let that ambition go, certainly not next year [either].

"But '26 there is a big reset which certainly provides the most realistic opportunity for any other team to beat Red Bull. But there is one-and three-quarter seasons before that and I don't want to go through much more suffering in the next 18 months, I would just hope for highlights and a trajectory that is going upward."

Next up is the return of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19-21, which is also the first Sprint weekend of the season. Watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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