Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was undiplomatic as he suggested their qualifying performance could be ‘put in the toilet’.
The German team had their best weekend of the season last week at Sao Paulo when they recorded a one-two finish.
That gave them their first Grand Prix of the season through George Russell, with Lewis Hamilton in second, and their seven-term world champion was positive about the team’s chances for the 2023 season ahead of them.
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Heading into the season final in Abu Dhabi there was plenty of optimism for more success, at the setting of the last campaign’s dramatic denouement. While there is nothing serious at stake in the season-ending dead rubber, Mercedes were hopeful that they could score more points.
However, Saturday’s qualifying session gave them few reasons for hope in the short term. Max Verstappen took pole position alongside team-mate Sergio Perez in second, suggesting that Red Bull’s dominance will be a factor for next year.
Behind them were Charles Leclerc, still in contention for a second-placed finish in the drivers’ championship ahead of Perez, and behind him fourth place went to Carlos Sainz Jr in the second Ferrari.
Only after the first four drivers did Mercedes’ duo appear. Seven-time world champion Hamilton was fifth fastest, and last week’s winner Russell sixth, meaning that there is plenty of racing to be done before either driver can hope to secure a podium place on Sunday.
Wolff has been occasionally optimistic during the season but he has acknowledged from the outset that problems with porpoisng and race pace had held his team back from a credible title challenge, focusing on next year after it became clear they would not challenge this season.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the conclusion of the qualifying session, where he had watched his bitter rival Christian Horner’s Red Bull team secure yet another pole position, the Austrian was in no mood to genuflect over his own team’s achievements.
He announced: "I've just heard today is World Toilet Day and I think that's one to put in the toilet."
Mercedes also look set to miss out on a deal for Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, who had been linked to the team as a reserve driver for next season. He now looks poised to return to Red Bull for another campaign.
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