Wolff: We need to deliver a car our drivers can push to its limits

toto wolff mercedes team boss

Toto Wolff has been “brutally transparent” about the ‘shortcomings’ of his team on recent street circuits, heading to the more conventional Paul Ricard, the Mercedes boss wants his team to up the ante with the W12.

Much has been written of Lewis Hamilton’s blunder and Mercedes no points haul at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix where only he could unlock the potential of the car while Valtteri Bottas was left flummoxed and insignificant all weekend.

In Monaco, Bottas suffered atrocious luck when his wheel welded itself to the axle and they messed up Hamilton’s strategy on a weekend which they described as a “tough one to swallow.”

While it can be questioned if, with three wins on its CV so far this season, the W12’s performance ‘fell off the cliff’ on the street tracks or their drivers were simply off the boil while their Formula 1 title rivals – Red Bull – ramped up the pressure.

Whatever the case, Wolff expects his team to deliver a flawless car in forthcoming races: “In Monaco and Baku we put the W12 in a window where only one of our drivers found the confidence to unlock the performance of the car – Valtteri in Monaco and Lewis in Baku.

“In such a close, intense title fight, we need to deliver a car at each race which both our drivers can confidently push to its limits,” said Wolff in the team’s preview of this weekend’s French Grand Prix.

He continued: “We come off the back of two street circuits unsuited to our car, two circuits we knew would be difficult for us, and we were disappointed to lose a podium finish and a victory through our own mistakes. That frustration reflects the high standards we hold ourselves to, and it is what drives us forward.”

France was without a Grand Prix since 2008. Returning to the calendar in 2018 and 2019, Hamilton dominated both races including a one-two last time out at Paul Ricard. There was no race last year due to COVID-19.

Wolff said of the next stop on the calendar: “The French Grand Prix means returning to a more traditional circuit and hopefully, better fortunes for us. It is a track we’ve gone well at in the past and, with a wide range of corner speeds that will test the car in every aspect, it’s an interesting challenge for us to tackle.

“We’re six races into the season and there’s still a long way to go. It’s looking very close at the front and we’re not expecting that to change anytime soon. We’ll be looking to turn our learnings from recent weeks into performance and to deliver a much stronger weekend with both cars,” concluded Wolff.

Mercedes Fact File: French Grand Prix

  • The renovation and modernisation of Paul Ricard in 2002, plus further modifications over the years means there are now 247 different potential track configurations, ranging from 0.8 km to 5.86 km long.
  • On 64 of those potential track configurations, a sophisticated sprinkler system can be used to create a wet track surface in dry conditions. This adds versatility to the track and makes it an interesting venue for tyre testing.
  • Ahead of the French Grand Prix’s return in 2018, some of the track was resurfaced, while there was the creation of new pedestrian passageways, new spectator access gates, the installation of 46,000 permanent seats in the grandstands and the construction of a new Paddock and Media Centre.
  • Most of the track has been resurfaced for F1’s return in 2021, too, and many of the corners have been very subtly reprofiled. However, the layout of the circuit remains the same.
  • The coloured stripes at Paul Ricard aren’t just for show, they make up a high-grip asphalt run-off system that replaces traditional gravel traps. Both colours use a mix of asphalt and tungsten to create an abrasive surface that helps slow the cars down if they go off track. However, the abrasion level is different, depending on the colour. The ‘Blue Zone’ isn’t as abrasive and is only mildly punishing, but the ‘Red Zone’ – close to the barriers – is much more abrasive and effective at slowing down the cars.
  • The Circuit Paul Ricard has a real mixture of corner types, with a range of high, medium and low-speed corners, which make it such a popular and useful test track. These are more equally distributed through the first and third sectors, but the second sector is dominated by the long back straight, which is intersected by a tight chicane.
  • Paul Ricard’s twisty first and third sector relegate it to middle of the leaderboard when it comes to lap time (64%) and lap distance (74%) spent at full throttle.
  • Following safety concerns at the returning French Grand Prix in 2018, the pit entry was moved for the 2019 event. Instead of entering the pit lane from the main straight, it was moved to the right-hand side of the penultimate corner, cutting across the final turn. The change made it around one second quicker to complete a pit stop.
  • Paul Ricard is the seventh track to have hosted a French Grand Prix and has hosted the second-most French GPs in F1 history, with 16, behind Magny-Cours on 18.
  • The circuit features three heavy braking zones, defined as registering more than 4g for over 0.4 seconds. Suzuka, Mexico and Interlagos also feature three, while only one circuit includes four: Albert Park.
  • However, the brakes aren’t a particular concern at Paul Ricard because the braking zones are reasonably well-spaced, so there is adequate time for the brakes to cool.
  • The long and gradually tightening Turn 11 is where the highest g-forces are registered at Paul Ricard, with drivers experiencing 4.9g through there.
  • Of all the tracks on the 2021 F1 schedule, Paul Ricard has the highest average track temperature (50°C) and second-highest maximum track temperature (55°C).
  • There’s an elevation change of around 30 metres from the highest point on the track (Turn 12) and the lowest point on the track (Turn 6), but because the elevation change is spread across the length of the lap, it isn’t actually that noticeable in reality.