After an underwhelming performance in pre-season testing Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has warned world champion Lewis Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas not to take too many risks in the Australian Grand Prix next week.
For the second year running Ferrari set the standard in Barcelona, but Red Bull also appeared quicker than the German team and “Hamilton and Bottas both admitted their cars lacked the necessary pace to compete at the front of the grid,” reports the Daily Express.
But Wolff has urged his drivers not to panic and believes his team can catch their rivals. “Last year we were behind Ferrari in terms of pure performance several times and we had to excel to win,” he said.
“It will be necessary to dig deep… because we are facing our biggest challenge. [But] we must be careful not to do too much because that is risky.
“There is a mountain to climb but we know how to do it. We did not become five times world champions for no reason.”
But Hamilton and Verstappen are best
Former Red Bull driver Mark Webber agrees that Mercedes are on the back foot as the start of the season approaches.
However, he believes that Hamilton is still one of the two best drivers in the sport, which will give Mercedes an edge.
The problem, though, is that the other stand out driver is Max Verstappen of Red Bull, whose care appears faster than Hamilton’s.
Those two “are the best in the world” Webber told the Australian Financial Review.
And he added that Hamilton could come under pressure from the young Dutchman. “Max is going to take a lot of risks, put his nose in everywhere,” he said.
Is Gasly holding Verstappen back?
But could Hamilton’s chances be given an unexpected boost by the travails of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Pierre Gasly?
The young Frenchman endured a mixed time in testing and Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko says he is not at the same level Verstappen.
“Gasly crashed the RB15 on his first day of testing, before hitting the barriers again on his final day of action,” says Planet F1.
“Marko spoke of how this severely hindered Verstappen’s time on-track, but the team didn’t expect the pair to be of the same standard just yet anyway.”
Marko said that the second crash “hurt” the team and said Gasly “should not allow himself to do that anymore”.
Point for fastest lap
It’s almost tradition for F1 to introduce a last-minute rule change before the start of the season and with the Australian GP looming plans to award an extra point for the fastest lap have been approved, reports Motorsport.com.
The change was voted through by the FIA World Motor Sport Council in time for next week’s race.
“Formula E also awards a point for fastest lap, but unlike in the all-electric series, in F1 the bonus point will only be awarded if the driver concerned finishes in the top 10.
“This is to stop drivers who are well outside the points and with nothing to lose making a last minute stop for fresh tyres.
“The change takes F1 back to its roots, as a point was awarded for fastest lap over the first 10 years of the World Championship in 1950-59.”