Mercedes chief Toto Wolff declares F1 battle is ‘just what the doctor ordered’

F1: Hamilton admits new Mercedes car has less downforce

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After a sensational lap by Max Verstappen in qualifying to take pole position ahead of the opening race of the Formula One season, the boss of Mercedes Toto Wolff has admitted seeing Red Bull at the top is “hard to swallow.”

It’s the duel most F1 fans have been waiting for – the battle between two of the most talent drivers on the grid, with Verstappen looking to dethrone Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes this season.

The seven-time champions have been playing catch up since pre-season testing, and Verstappen outdid himself this weekend by topping every session of the new F1 season so far.

Wolff told the Sky Germany: “It’s hard to swallow, although we knew Red Bull would be strong.

“The conditions are not in our favour. It’s going to be a very tough, dog-eat-dog fight.”

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However, Wolff did admit they’re ready to take on Red Bull for a duel in the desert.

“We are very excited to have a real fight on our hands,” Wolff continued in a team statement.

“Six different teams in the top ten today and it’s clear that simply being “good” will not be good enough this year.

“But in the final year of these regulations you need to push the needle further to not only beat Red Bull but also some of the other teams. It’s just what the doctor ordered!”

Hamilton will start the race behind the Red Bull on Sunday, lining up second on the grid, in a season that could ruffle a few feathers in the Mercedes camp.

But the seven-time world champion was optimistic of their chances in the race.

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“Max did a great lap, nearly 0.4 is a big gap so we have some work to do,” said Hamilton.

The car was feeling good in Q1 and Q2, we took until the last minute trying to find the right set-up and it felt sweet.

“Just at the end I couldn’t get any more from it but still, it was exciting.

“I’m immensely proud of everyone. We’ve worked very hard over the last week to try and understand the package that we have.

“We made some steps forward but we couldn’t compete with that last lap Max did. P2 puts us in a position to cause Red Bull trouble tomorrow.”

Meanwhile his team-mate Valtteri Bottas starts third on the grid.

“Today was a lot better than testing. Throughout qualifying I was feeling more and more comfortable. At least we are closer to Red Bull than we were in testing. We have two cars to battle against one Red Bull tomorrow,” the Finn said.

“I had to use two sets of tyres in Q1 so I only had one new set for Q3 which put me at a disadvantage. But starting from third at this track isn’t bad so I’m looking forward to it. Red Bull seem to have more stability, particularly in the wind.

“We have two cars in the top three so we can definitely still fight for the win.”

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