Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes it’s a “risk to assume” Mercedes’ form from winter testing back in February makes them favourites for season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
This year’s Formula 1 season will get underway this weekend at the Red Bull Ring, more than seven months after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix concluded the 2019 campaign.
The global COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the season being delayed up until now, with the opening 10 races called off.
With racing to resume on July 5, Mercedes is eyeing a seventh successive title-double, but Wolff remains cautious on his team’s prospects stating Saturday’s qualifying session will be the first indication as to where the opposition lies.
“I think it’s always a risk to assume that what you see in testing is going to be the performance in track,” Wolff said in an F1 Vodcast. “If you look back to 2019 and then what happened in Australia, it was totally different.
“So we were travelling to Australia [this year] not expecting an easy run there, but expecting quite some competition. You could see the eagerness of some within the room [when the event cancellation was discussed] to race, because they felt they had a great car.
“In that respect I have no doubt it will be the usual suspects. Maybe with some surprises – I think that Racing Point has a very strong car and had been showing promising lap times in Barcelona. I have no doubt that McLaren and Renault will play a role.
“So just wait and see. I’m always one on the careful side. I think we will have a first indication on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, and then on Sunday we shall see who has been able to have the best package.”
Drivers have been making most of the extended F1 break by using the time to work on fitness levels and stay as race-sharp as possible.
Wolff admits the extra time off has made him realise how much he misses racing, comparing it to like “pulling a plug out”.
“It has been definitely surreal, and everybody who tells me that they love spending more time at home, I don’t quite believe it, because we’re in a fast-paced environment,” Wolff said.
“We work in some kind of frame, we know when we go racing, we know when we go back to the office, and we know when we go home. Suddenly it’s like pulling a plug out. I miss the competition.”
Austria will host back-to-back events under strict coronavirus protocols, which teams have been practising during recent tests.
F1 isn’t set to welcome fans back to grand prix’s until next season, but Wolff reckons the championship can still put on a spectacle despite the “weirdness” of racing behind closed doors.
“I think we know what to do, I think we know that protecting our staff and everybody who attends is the main priority,” he said. “But equally, it’s new ground, we’ve never been in this situation. We’re talking a lot about bubbles, less interaction with the other teams, you guys [the media] and the fans, and that will be a new experience.
“F1 has always been able to take out the positives, and if we’re able to provide a great show on Saturday and Sunday I think that’s going to compensate for the weirdness.”