Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton will not be “pushing anybody off or hitting anybody” in today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following the warning over unsporting conduct issued before the weekend, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes.
“I haven’t spoken with Lewis about that,” he explained, “because I think that the race director sensitised the drivers about the possible consequences.
“I have no doubt that the drivers will race hard because this is about the Formula 1 world championship. But I have confidence that it will be very clean, hard but very clean, not pushing anybody off or hitting anybody. And this is what this epic championships is about, as a final.”
Wolff believes Red Bull have gained the upper hand in set-up around Yas Marina after Hamilton lost pole position to Verstappen.
“Their car was very quick, as you can see where Sergio [Perez] is. He was competitive, he’s right there – what is he, P4? And although that was pretty compressed, I think they just tuned the car in a way that it was very competitive in qualifying.”
However he suggested the RB16Bs may have been tuned more for single-lap pace than race stints. “It reminds me of the Jeddah pace, which was unachievable for us and that certainly they improved massively with the single-lap pace.”
Cooling temperatures in the evening qualifying session – and race – may also work in Red Bull’s favour, Wolff added. “Maybe the ambient worked for them, got a bit colder and this is why.
“We were on the colder side of our tyre temperatures and that certainly didn’t help. We started to lock up and lose some time in five, and I believe it was 12, 13.”
Hamilton will start from second place on the medium compound tyres, while Verstappen starts from pole on the softs. While the race has typically only seen a single pit stop in previous years, Wolff believes “the two stop is always a viable variant” this weekend.
“You can attack and go on a two-stop or you can manage and try to make a one-stop, which could be tricky at the end. So I think we need to see.
“We saw quite some deg on the soft in the long runs. Less so on the medium, which makes it exciting in terms of the strategies. But definitely for us a one-stop looks good and a two-stop is definitely on also.”
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