'1-0 to Red Bull' – Wolff worried but expects 'angry' Hamilton response

By Sports Desk December 11, 2021

Toto Wolff saw cause for concern in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday but is backing Lewis Hamilton to muster an "angry" response in the decisive season-ending race.

Max Verstappen beat title rival Hamilton to pole position by 0.371 seconds with a flying lap that gives him a clear view of his first Formula One world championship.

Verstappen and Hamilton enter Sunday's race tied on 369.5 points, just the second ever example of the top two in F1 heading into the finale all square.

Red Bull's Verstappen already has a slender advantage due to his superior win tally – a potential tie-breaker – and will now lead Hamilton off the start line, prompting Mercedes team principal Wolff to acknowledge to Sky Sports: "It's 1-0 for them."

Verstappen will also start on a soft tyre that should initially work in his favour, potentially leaving Hamilton – on mediums – battling the chasing pack.

"I am also worried for tomorrow because their long runs were much better on Friday," Wolff said. "Our tyres were just not in the window they were.

"You can see Q1, Q2 was ours. It looked like a pretty easy run, and then you lose all the performance.

"The pace was there. Obviously on the long runs you do not know. The car that's faster tomorrow will win the race, irrespective of who starts on which tyre."

Wolff added: "This is a long race, and it's Lewis Hamilton in the car."

Indeed, Hamilton is not lacking motivation as he pursues a record-breaking eighth championship.

"He's hunting," his boss said. "I think there is nothing you need to say. I think he's going to be angry and that's good, motivated for tomorrow to hunt him down.

"We are on the back foot. Sometimes you need to see the positive, sometimes that's not bad as a starting point."

Sergio Perez gave Red Bull team-mate Verstappen a tow to boost his pole bid, although chief Christian Horner pointed out his main man had enough pace regardless.

"I think that's one of Max's best laps of the year," Horner said. "Even on the following lap that we got him to back off on, he matched the time. The tow was probably worth a tenth or two, not half a second.

"His last sector, when you look at the level of downforce he's got on, is insane, absolutely insane."

Horner, who was "surprised" Hamilton stayed on the mediums, added: "I think that Max is giving it everything. He's driving his heart out. He's thrown everything at this session."

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    Starting from P6, Hamilton suffered the puncture following contact from Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on the first lap in Barcelona and suggested to his Mercedes team he should retire from the race to preserve the car's engine after rejoining at the back of the field.

    But the seven-time champion produced an excellent drive after his enforced pit-stop and looked on course to finish fourth before a coolant leak allowed Ferrari's Carlos Sainz to edge him out late on.

    Speaking after the race, Hamilton considered the circumstances he was forced to overcome en route to a strong points finish.

    "To have that problem and come back, it felt like some of the older races I've done," Hamilton said. "It feels amazing.

    "I was thinking it was impossible to get back into points, but the team said 'no, you're on for eighth'. I thought they were being super-optimistic.

    "I'm glad we didn't [retire] and it just shows you never stop and never give up, and that's what I did.

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    Since losing out on a record eighth world title in the closing seconds of the final race of the 2021 campaign, when Max Verstappen clinched his first championship in controversial circumstances, Hamilton has endured a frustrating time.

    The 37-year-old, who has only secured one podium this campaign, has been critical of Mercedes' W13 car on numerous occasions this year, calling it "undriveable" after finishing 13th at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last month. 

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