Today's qualifying session didn't go according to plan for the World Champions: on a track where Mercedes has an active winning streak dating back to 2014, Lewis Hamilton ended in P4 after hitting the wall while coming into the pit lane, and winner of the 2020 Russian GP Valtteri Bottas will start tomorrow even further behind in P7.
Team Principal Toto Wolff said in the post-qualifying press conference that they went with the safest strategy of doing an extra lap on the sleeks, but that it didn't pay off:
"By going out earlier in the session, we had our track positions, and I think it was the right decision to take. I think we were simply out of position to do two laps on the softs whilst not gambling and taking a certain risk."
"We could have pitted one lap earlier and basically aborted the final, fastest lap on the intermediates, and followed George Russell and the others into the pits, but that would have been much too risky."
"So we stayed one more lap out, and by staying one more lap out we missed the opportunity of banking in a second lap on the softs, which would have probably been enough to be in the front row. You can see that everybody who will start there has had a second lap that counted."
He added that Hamilton's pit accident didn't impact his final result, as he had already lost the time slot for the second shot on softs by going out too early at the beginning of the session:
"Lewis losing his front wing didn't have any effect on the end result because it would have been anyway out of sequence, or even worse because he would have crossed the line earlier. So, just a sequence of events that were unfortunate.
"When things go wrong they just go wrong a few times in a row, and that seems to happen to us at the moment, but, having said that, we will break the pattern now," he summed up.
Asked if the bad qualifying outcome feels worse on a track where the German team has a history of domination, Wolff replied that it's less than ideal especially thinking about the championship fight:
"It's annoying. Monza and Sochi are the races that we knew we were stronger and we could have maximised the points in the way that we would have wanted, but that's racing, and it's another one that we have to take to the chin."
"I think the pendulum swings in both directions, we have seen that Red Bull has been unlucky at times in the same way that happens to us at this moment. None of the two teams or drivers has been able to run away with a big margin of points."
The Team Principal went on to agree with his team's choice of strategy, even though it cost them the front row:
"It's clear that some of our competitors can take more risks, because they would have been towards the back end of the Q3. We just need to try and do our job without making mistakes, and then the points will come."
Wolf is "optimistic" for tomorrow's race to bring back "big points scoring" for both the team and Hamilton in the drivers' standings, in spite of the few overtaking opportunities on the Russian track:
"I think that P4 is maybe not the worse of starting positions for Lewis with a quick car and a straight line, and the tow is worth a lot. Probably the best position to start is P3, we have seen that in past years, so P4 may not be a catastrophe, on the contrary, it might be an opportunity."
Tomorrow could be a good race for Bottas too, who is set for another recovery race after the Italian GP, where he started last and went on to return on the podium:
"As for Valtteri, we're still thinking about possible strategic decisions to be taken in the next hours on what could be the best and quickest race strategy for him. His pace was tremendous yesterday, the quickest on longer pace on the hards, so we expect it could be exciting for him tomorrow."
"You win some, you lose some, and today we lost out," he summed up.