Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff believes the side squandered a potential pole position in Brazil by not being “adaptive enough” during the closing stages of qualifying.

The prospect of a downpour arriving imminently in the final segment resulted in the teams scrambling to get their drivers track position for the most optimal run in Q3.

But while Mercedes successfully placed Lewis Hamilton and George Russell third and fourth in the queue at the end of the pitlane, neither driver pushed hard on their out-lap.

Meanwhile, the two Aston Martins bolted up the road, eventually winding up third and fourth, while Max Verstappen, who claimed pole position, also bypassed Russell.

With Hamilton and Russell ending up fifth and sixth respectively, Wolff admits Mercedes should have been more flexible to ensure both cars were better prepared.

“I think you see how we’re in the marginal differences in terms of out-laps and temperatures,” Wolff told Sky F1. “I think we weren’t adaptive enough.

“The Aston Martins just stormed away. Max straight out of the garage with warm tyres also stormed away and that was the quickest cars. And we were a second off the previous time or eight-tenths off and it shows you what you should have done.”

Mercedes have regularly trailed slightly behind both Red Bull and Ferrari in qualifying in recent rounds, but Hamilton believes the tricky conditions magnified its deficit.

“It’s fifth, fifth is never that great. I did the best I could, hopefully we’ll have a better race,” Hamilton commented.

He added: “The car was showing signs of decent performance, but we’re generally a couple tenths off the top guys. But I think the circumstances at the end, the conditions probably have us maybe a little bit further back, it’s difficult to say.”

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 03.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Qualifying Day

Meanwhile, like Leclerc, Russell contends that the difficulty he experienced with finding any grip on his sole Q3 effort almost led to him abandoning his attempt.

Despite being underwhelmed with his lap, last year’s race winner in Interlagos asserts that he was pleasantly surprised to bag a starting spot on the third row for Sunday.

“I mean, firstly this is absolutely crazy. I’ve never ever seen a change of weather so drastic as that,” Russell said before receiving a two-place grid drop for a pitlane incident.

“I was really disappointed with the lap. I was just sliding around and had no grip. I didn’t see much rain on my visor but I was a second off and actually wanted to pit because I was confident I was going to be last and ended up P6. So, while it was disappointing and frustrating, P6 is definitely not a bad place to start.”

“The team did a great job, the car has been performing well here and now it’s all about race pace so let’s see how it performs on Saturday and Sunday.”

Russell, who has only finished inside the top three once this season, is optimistic that a podium is possible for him this weekend.

“Yeah, definitely! It’s the podium,” Russell answered regarding his target for Sunday.

“Aston seem to have found their form which was surprising from where they have come from. Hopefully our race pace will be better than theirs. It’s going to be difficult to fight with Max, Charles is on the front row so he’s in a great place. I expect it to be a two or a three-stop race so, all to play for.

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