Mercedes are unsure if they still had their customary pace advantage over the rest of the field in retaining their 100% record at the Russian Grand Prix.
The seven-time consecutive Constructors’ champions have never tasted defeat at Sochi, with the race at the former Winter Olympic Games base having been inaugurated in 2014 – the year when their era of Formula 1 dominance began.
Lewis Hamilton secured his 100th victory to make it a straight eight for Mercedes, but it was a weekend when it was difficult to get a handle on the relative performances of the cars due to the variable weather conditions.
Also in the equation was a glut of penalties for taking new parts, which meant Max Verstappen knew on Friday he would be starting at the back of the grid and therefore was barely seen on track during qualifying.
However, the two Mercedes were first and second in both practice sessions that were possible and Hamilton comfortably closed down race leader Lando Norris in the dry, so it is perhaps a touch surprising they were unconvinced about exactly where they stood in comparative terms.
“It’s hard to say. If we had a clear run, we were good,” said Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, quoted by Motorsport-total.com.
“But we were also often in traffic and mostly behind a McLaren, and then you can’t see the pace.
“We were definitely on a par with Red Bull. It’s difficult to say whether we were faster because of the race we had.”
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Shovlin acknowledged the downpour in the closing stages of the race had helped Mercedes, especially because it was far from certain Hamilton would have been able to pass Norris once he had got into the dirty air behind the McLaren.
Ultimately, Norris’ decision to stay out for too long with slick tyres on a slippery circuit was definitive as he struggled to keep control of his car, Hamilton easily taking the lead with far greater grip after he had stopped for intermediates.
Mercedes timed their pit-stops perfectly and that also enabled Valtteri Bottas, who had started 17th due to an engine penalty, to work his way up to finish fifth from a much less promising position before the rain came.
“With the switch to intermediates we were able to work our way forward,” added Shovlin.
“Without the rain at the end it could have been a very disappointing result, with Lewis in second and Valtteri out of the points.”
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