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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits the Turkish Grand Prix was a case of “damage limitation” as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen regained the lead of the Formula One World Championship, with Lewis Hamilton trailing in second. And Wolff insists the priority for Mercedes was simply not suffering a DNF, resulting in Hamilton’s late pitstop.
Ahead of the race, Mercedes had already been forced to take a 10-place grid penalty, as Hamilton picked up a fourth internal combustion engine [ICE], with the team not wanting to risk a mechanical failure ahead of the next race with the championship on a knife-edge.
Despite taking pole position, Hamilton was relegated to 11th place, with his team-mate Valtteri Bottas promoted to first, with Verstappen alongside him on the front row.
Hamilton fought his way up to third during the race, before the team indicated for the seven-time world champion to pit for a fresh pair of intermediates. But the 36-year-old seemed to overrule the team, and instead opted to stay out.
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Ultimately it was the wrong call, with Hamilton eventually diving into the pits from third on lap 51 of 58 as his tyre wear was too much, re-emerging in P5, with the 36-year-old left fuming on the radio.
Yet, comparatively, Verstappen heavily capitalised in Russia despite starting from the back of the grid, and with mixed feelings in the Mercedes camp after Turkey, Wolff admitted it was never going to be a simple race.
“I think in a normal dry race, finishing fifth [for Hamilton] would have been the best case,” said Wolff.
“On Sunday [in the wet] the best case with the hindsight of the end result, or with the information we have at the end, probably third would have been the best we could have achieved.
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“It’s a five-point swing. I think we need to walk away from here and say that was damage limitation for this weekend.
“As for Valtteri, thank God Valtteri was out there and won the race and scored an extra point for the fastest lap.”
Verstappen crossed the line almost 15 seconds behind the Mercedes of Bottas, taking control of the championship once again with just a handful of races remaining.
But with six events remaining, including Hamilton territory Austin and two new events in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Wolff isn’t too concerned about the future.
“In the end, we lost eight points to Red Bull with a grid penalty,” said Wolff. “Red Bull, last week, [in Sochi] were happy with a seven-point loss. So it’s going to be very tight until the end.
“DNFs are going to make the big difference and that was also a consideration on Sunday, not three- or four- or five-point swings.”
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