Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff bemoaned a “bruising” Saturday in Sao Paulo that saw both its drivers hampered by tyre woes during the closing stages of the Sprint race.

Starting fourth and fifth, George Russell passed Sergio Perez at the start before Lewis Hamilton completed a move around the outside of the Red Bull into Turn 4.

Russell then caught polesitter Lando Norris unaware by opportunistically launching down the inside of the McLaren driver at the tight Turn 11 to seize second on the road.

But Mercedes were unable to maintain that pace, with Perez muscling his way back through by the end of Lap 8, in between Norris demoting Norris back to fourth.

Although Russell retained position to the end, Hamilton struggled increasingly within the final laps and fell into the clutches of Charles Leclerc and Yuki Tsunoda.

Wolff admits that Mercedes extracted too much from the tyres with its early push, which was further heightened by issues with its W14 car being incorrectly balanced.

“I think we pushed very hard at the beginning,” he told Sky F1. The car was not balanced right and then you’re putting some sliding and it just killed the tyres – it’s what happened to George in Mexico.”

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 04.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sprint Day.

Last year, Mercedes profited from Red Bull being hindered by the Sprint format only allotting teams one practice hour to optimise their cars to score a 1-2 finish at Interlagos.

However, Wolff suggests that it may be the German marque who have opted for a flawed set-up direction this weekend, leaving its drivers to battle with an unstable rear.

Expanding on the problems Mercedes endured, Wolff explained: “I think we had a little bit too weak of a rear end and then you’re balancing them [the tyres] on a knife’s edge and then trying to hold onto the pace is maybe something we have to learn from tomorrow but it was a bruising day.”

With only minimal set-up changes allowed under parc ferme conditions, Wolff is cautious that Mercedes won’t be able to make any drastic improvements overnight.

“I don’t think there’s a magic screw you can turn and then everything is fixed [for tomorrow],” he conceded.

“It was very odd. Everything went against us today, we need to really scratch our heads hard [to see] what we can do for tomorrow and improve.”

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