Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says Red Bull has a “big advantage” heading into Formula 1’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix despite Lewis Hamilton’s pole position.
Hamilton claimed top spot during qualifying at Imola, logging his first pole position of the campaign, as he eclipsed Red Bull duo Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.
Perez suggested a mistake cost him a realistic shot at top spot while Verstappen also made a rare error on his final Q3 push lap.
Wolff believes those incidents, plus Mercedes’ relative year-on-year lap times, shows the squad is still playing catch-up.
“The pole was a surprise because at the moment we do not have the quickest car,” said Wolff.
“It was so close and Max, without the mistake, would have been solid on pole, maybe not as much as Bahrain but he would have been there.
“But the loss compared to last year is just enormous – we were six tenths ahead [in 2020] and now we are two tenths behind.
“So, we need to scratch our heads and just try to find the performance.
“It’s a quicker car than in Bahrain, I think we have got the car in a better balance window, that’s the main reason for the improvement.
“We had some drivability concerns in Bahrain and we are sorting that out – slowly we are getting there.”
While Hamilton will start from pole position his team-mate Valtteri Bottas will line up only eighth after a difficult Q3.
Wolff believes the situation hands the initiative to Red Bull heading into Sunday’s race.
“It’s a big advantage for them because not only two Red Bulls behind but Perez is starting on Softs so they can do two different strategies,” commented Wolff.
“Valtteri has to make his way through the soft runners, which he will and can, but I think we are a little bit on the backfoot.”