Toto Wolff makes worrying Lewis Hamilton admission and says Red Bull taught them a lesson

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen analysed by Coulthard

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Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has admitted Red Bull taught them a lesson in Abu Dhabi qualifying as Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position. Wolff worryingly admitted Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ‘had no pace’ as Sergio Perez towed Verstappen on his way to taking the advantage ahead of Sunday’s season finale.

On his first run, Verstappen slipstreamed Red Bull teammate Perez before overtaking on Turn 9 on his way to completing his pole lap in 1m22.109s.

Hamilton was 0.371s slower after Mercedes sent him out before Valtteri Bottas, who could only place sixth on the grid.

With Verstappen in pole and Perez fourth, Red Bull have a significant advantage over Mercedes heading into Sunday’s highly-anticipated GP.

And Wolff has accepted that Mercedes were outsmarted on Saturday, with Hamilton’s world title rival moving one step closer to his maiden success.

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After qualifying, Wolff credited Red Bull for how they took the advantage in Abu Dhabi and admitted slipstreaming in qualifying is something Mercedes should consider down the line.

He said: “We generally have the belief that the slipstreaming, what we gain on the straights you lose in the corners because you’re simply too close and it’s very difficult to orchestrate.

“I think the Red Bulls did it flawlessly today and credit to them how they did it, and that gave them an advantage, but that’s not the reason why we’re behind.

“We simply had no pace, not enough pace and Verstappen late on, I believe they were not slipstreaming and still fast. A lesson to learn is that it’s something we should consider in the future but today it’s basically 1-0 to them.”

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Verstappen’s pole position came as a surprise after Hamilton looked far superior throughout practice sessions on Friday, coming out on top in FP2 and FP3.

And Wolff linked Red Bull’s sudden competitiveness to the change in track temperature, which made it harder for Mercedes to get their tyres in the right window.

“I think their car was very quick because you can see where Sergio is, Wolff added.

“He was competitive, he was right there, he’s P4, and although that was pretty compressed, I think they just tuned the car in a way that was very competitive in qualifying.

“It reminds me of the Jeddah pace, which was unachievable for us, and certainly they improved massively with the single lap pace.

“Maybe the ambient worked for them. It could be a bit colder, and this is why we were on the colder side of our tyre temperatures.

“That certainly didn’t help, we started to lock up and lose some time in [Turn] 5 and I believe it was [Turns] 12, 13.”

Hamilton has it all to do in Sunday’s Grand Prix if he’s to secure to record-breaking eighth F1 Drivers’ Championship.

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