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Toto Wolff

Wolff facing 'no man's land' reality as Verstappen continues to make him suffer

As far as Toto Wolff is concerned, after Max Verstappen's latest victory, this season is done and dusted

Wolff Japan
To news overview © XPBimages

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has delivered a damning verdict on the F1 season after watching Max Verstappen waltz to his latest victory.

Verstappen scored pole position and fastest lap en route to clinching his third successive Japanese Grand Prix, equalling the feat of legendary seven-time champion Michael Schumacher from more than 20 years ago.

It was a bounce-back win following a first mechanical retirement in two years in Australia, one which leaves the Dutch driver 13 points clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in the drivers' standings.

In winning the other grands prix this season, Wolff's assessment on Verstappen was to the point as he said: "No one is going to catch Max this year.

"His driving and the car are just spectacular. You can see the way he manages the tyres and basically this season now is best of the rest.

"That's the fight that's on. Hopefully, we can catch up to the McLarens and Ferraris and fight for P2. This is what it is this year and what it was last year, and we had a P2 last year."

Mercedes 'in no man's land'

With George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finishing seventh and ninth at Suzuka, Mercedes is currently languishing in fourth in the constructors' championship, just one point ahead of Aston Martin.

Although Ferrari has improved considerably from last season, in particular regarding its tyre wear that played a major role in Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finishing third and fourth, it is still off the leading pace of Red Bull.

Even finishing second in the constructors' may be a stretch for Mercedes unless it rapidly develops the W15, which at least showed a few more positive traits in Japan compared to the previous three races.

With the cars that finish this year due to carry over into next season given the focus and resources that will need to be shifted to the new power unit regulations for 2026, it was suggested to Wolff that campaign was now the more realistic target

"If your expectation is to eventually race for wins and championships then you can say we are in a bit of a no man's land because Max and Red Bull are far ahead, and we are in this bunch," replied Wolff.

"It is not satisfying for any team to be fighting for P2, P3 or P4. If I was to look from a purely sporting point of view, P1 is what matters, not P2, P3 or P4, but this is the reality we are facing at the moment.

"We're trying to make the best of this new reality, and that is to beat our competitors, whilst acknowledging that somebody is just doing a better job and setting a benchmark that we eventually need to set again ourselves.

"Our ambition is to win races this year, and I wouldn't want to let that ambition go, certainly not for next year.

"In '26 there's a big reset which certainly provides the most realistic opportunity for any other team to beat Red Bull.

"But there are one and three-quarter seasons before that, and I don't want to go through much more suffering in the next, whatever it is, 18 months. I just hope for highlights and a trajectory that's going upward."

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