Team chief Toto Wolff on Friday said Mercedes would always risk disqualification, as happened with Lewis Hamilton at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix, rather than take a cautious approach to racing.
Speaking in the paddock at the Mexico Grand Prix, Wolff also said that he agreed with seven-time champion Hamilton’s claim that half the grid in Austin would have been disqualified if their cars were also tested after the race for worn ‘skid blocks’.
Newly-crowned world champion Max Verstappen dominated the day’s action with a clean sweep of both practice sessions for Red Bull, finishing FP2 ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who was also disqualified in Texas.
Hamilton came home just two seconds adrift of Verstappen on track in the American race, but he was disqualified for excessive plank wear several hours after the race during scrutineering tests.
Wolff said Mercedes were aware that Hamilton’s car was ‘on the limit’ for wear following Saturday’s sprint race, but they chose not to make adjustments – and with them a pit-lane start for the race for breaking parc fermee rules.
“The problem with the Sprint races is your car goes into parc ferme and you can’t adjust it anymore,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “Going into Saturday, we thought, ‘hmm, that could be on the limit, but probably with a little bit of a margin’.
“I would take the disqualification running for a race win and seeing the performance, rather than ending P3 and 25 seconds adrift…. Every day of the week I would take the disqualification!”
He added that he agreed with Hamilton that more cars ran illegally, but simply were not tested.
“That’s the feedback we got from the other teams,” he said. “They chat with each other, the drivers. Also, on a management level, I think many, many teams were probably under the nine millimetres (limit).”
He explained further that the Austin circuit was unique in creating these problems, especially as Mercedes had introduced a new floor package at a Grand Prix with a sprint race and only one free practice.
There was a widespread sense of relief at having a ‘normal’ Grand Prix weekend without a sprint race in Mexico as Verstappen outpaced nearest rival Norris by 0.119 seconds.
In deteriorating conditions in front of a boisterous and partisan crowd, rooting for his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, Verstappen stayed ahead with a determined performance after beating Williams’ Alex Albon by 0.095 in FP1.
Charles Leclerc was third for Ferrari, ahead of a revived Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, Perez, Daniel Ricciardo of Alpha Tauri and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes who was seventh.
Esteban Ocon was eighth for Alpine ahead of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and George Russell in the second Mercedes, but with the top ten separated by only half a second there were few clear signs of performance and potential.