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Wolff wants improvement on race starts, not strategy calls

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates his pole position with Toto Wolff (GER)
© XPB 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has singled out race starts as his team's biggest weakness at the midway point of the 2018 season.

Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton lost the lead off the line at the start of the British Grand Prix, which also contributed to his getting spun around by Kimi Raikkonen.

"We need to find some performance in the race starts to avoid incidents like we saw [at Silverstone]," Wolff said. "What we need to understand is where can we improve and where can we engineer."

“We are doing a lot of work here this week trying to understand that," chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin elaborated in Mercedes' latest Pure Pitwall video debrief.

"We know fine well that if we qualify on pole we have got to get off the line as well as the Ferraris, and that is what we will be trying to do in Hockenheim."

As for what had gone wrong on Sunday, Shovlin said: “The simple answer is that we got some wheelspin. There was a bit less grip on the grid than we were expecting.

“We had done practice starts there and at Silverstone they do actually allow you do a start from the grid," he added. "But for some reason on Sunday we didn’t quite have what we expected. And as soon as you get the wheelspin, you lose traction - and that lost him places quickly.”

Wolff said that improving the starts were more important than getting worked up about race strategies.

The team was heavily criticised for not bringing Hamilton into the pits under a virtual safety car in the Austrian Grand Prix. The decision cost him victory, and chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton over the team radio.

The team was under fire again last weekend when it opted not to pit Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for new tyres under a full safety car. When the race restarted, Bottas lost the lead and sank to fourth place, although Hamilton held on for second behind Sebastian Vettel.

But rather than apologise again for the team's decision, this time Wolff robustly defended the call.

“I think the strategy was pretty good," he insisted. "We decided to go for the track position. It was the right call in my view, and we wouldn’t have won the race otherwise in my opinion. So [I'm] fine with that.

“I think it was absolutely the right decision to do. There was 15 or 16 laps until the end with mediums that would last. Gaining track position was the interesting one for us and that triggered our decision.

“I think that both strategies are valid. But doing the opposite [to Ferrari] was the choice we went for and at the end it brought us a P2 and P4.

"Considering how the race started, we need to accept the result as an acceptable outcome with real damage limitation.

“We want to be aggressive," he added. "Obviously some others are more aggressive. But it’s about racing fair and square and having the best car.

"This is what is in our hands and try to improve where we can improve.”

Having been dominant in previous seasons, this year is proving a much tighter battle at the top between Mercedes and Ferrari. Wolff admitted that there was going to be no big step change in the second half of the year that would put Mercedes out of reach of its rivals, as happened in 2017.

"What we’ve seen this season is a little bit of a different pattern," he explained. "Everybody brings updates to every race and there is never a silver bullet that provides you three tenths or four tenths, which was the difference between us and Ferrari last year.

"It is just a constant learning of the tyre which is the single most important denominator of performance. You get it right and you get it wrong.

"I would have loved for us to build a gap in Austria, Montreal and Silverstone because we lose some in Hungary and we lose some in Singapore," he added.

"But we will look at it now and try to fight and score as many points as possible.”

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