Ferrari appeared to hold a significant pace edge over the Silver Arrows at the last race in Germany but through a mixture of driver error and strategy calls in the rain, race winner Lewis Hamilton now holds a title advantage over Sebastian Vettel while Mercedes top the constructors’ standings again.
But a cautious Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky F1: “Even though we have taken the lead back in both championships, I still think that Ferrari has a very strong package at the moment and they will be the enemy and the competitor to beat.”
Wolff claimed Ferrari were gaining a staggering 0.5s on the straights last weekend due to their recent improvement in engine power.
“This is a very difficult championship with a competitor that is going from strength to strength,” he continued to reporters in Hockenheim. “We keep adding performance on the car and in the engine and they do the same.
“Keeping the belief in yourself and the team is going to play an important part in how this championship is going to go.”
Next up is Budapest, and a tight and twisty track in the Hungaroring would usually suit a team who focus less on straight-line speed, and more on downforce.
But Ferrari currently appear to be excelling in both fields, and it has not been a circuit that has suited the usually power-dominant Mercedes team in recent years.
The Silver Arrows have only won once there since 2013, and Wolff doesn’t believe they will be the favourites this weekend.
“Budapest was always a difficult one for us,” he added.
“I still think that the hot temperatures and the layout of the Hungary track doesn’t suit the DNA of our car so much.”
Wolff reflects on Hamilton display and ‘unpopular calls’
The German GP weekend started with confirmation of Hamilton’s new £40m-a-year contract, and ended with him dazzling in the race and winning from his lowest-ever grid position.
As Wolff put it: “He gives me that feel-good feeling since 2013. The difference between the best and the very good is that on the very difficult days they are just able to make the difference. He’s one of them.”
But Mercedes still had to make “unpopular calls” for Hamilton to be so comfortable in his victory, instructing Valtteri Bottas, on fresh tyres, not to challenge the leader for position after the end of the Safety Car.
But though Hamilton leads Vettel by 17 points in the standings and team-mate Bottas by a further 49, Wolff insisted they would not favour the Englishman – claiming they would have made the same strategy call if Bottas was leading.
“Racing is the most important and we always said that if the championship goes into its last third or last quarter and there is a big difference between the drivers then we might make these unpopular calls,” he explained.
“But it’s much too early in the season to do this.
“[On Sunday] we made it in order to bring a one-two home. We would have done it the other way round [too].”
Who will sign off for the summer break in style? Watch the Hungarian GP live only on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Sky Sports F1 is the only place to watch every Formula 1 Grand Prix, qualifying and practice session live in 2018. Get Sky Sports F1.