Toto Wolff enjoys idea of Mercedes as the underdogs

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Toto Wolff.

After three years of unbroken supremacy, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Monday that he relishes the idea that his champions are now underdogs in this year’s Formula One title battle.

But his team are not likely to follow Ferrari’s example and use team orders to favour one driver in the world championship.

Following Ferrari’s one-two triumph in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel’s notched up victory ahead of grim-faced team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the scarlet scuderia are on top in both the drivers and constructors championships.

“We were well beaten and so I think we are the underdog and we need to catch up,” said Wolff as the tifosi celebrated with enthusiasm all around the Mediterranen principality. “This is the new reality.”

It was a landmark win for Ferrari, their first in Monaco since 2001 and a first 1-2 since 2010.

But it was shrouded in controversy.

It was clearly apparent that four-time champion Vettel was favoured by Ferrari for victory over his Finnish team-mate, who had taken pole position and led the race comfortably from the start before being called in for an untimely early pit-stop that gave Vettel the initiative.

That was certainly the view of most observers including Mercedes’ title challenger three-time champion Briton Lewis Hamilton who, like Wolff, does not welcome the prospect of adopting a similar favouritism strategy at Mercedes.

“I haven’t spoken to the team, and I don’t really plan to,” said Hamilton, who finished seventh while team-mate Finn Valtteri Bottas was fourth.

“Valtteri’s doing a great job. I don’t currently feel that we have to favour one over the other.

“It’s really important that we work as a team, more than anything, as we have been. There might be some things along the way positioning wise which, at some stage, become valuable, but – who knows? — it might go the other way and I might need to give Valtteri the upper hand.

“I really have no idea. We’ve just got to make sure we’re ahead of them so we don’t need to be in the same scenario.”

Hamilton, described by Wolff as a ‘team player’ this season after years of intra-team scrapping with retired 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg, is now 25 points adrift of Vettel in the drivers’ title race.

“They deserved to win because they had the quickest car out there,” said Wolff. “But the underdog is the one that people want to see winning. As a matter of fact, I think we have been that since the beginning of the season.

“We have been dropping in and out of the ‘tyre window’ and never had two cars within that window over the course of whole weekend.”

Hamilton, who struggled all weekend in Monte Carlo, will now aim to bounce back at one of his favourite races, next month’s Canadian Grand Prix, but has admitted he faces a major challenge.

“Trust me, I will be pushing and the guys will be pushing to understand it because we don’t want this again. One more race like that and we will be much further behind – it is hard to get to within six points and in firing range, but bit by bit we will chip away at it.”

Asked about Ferrari’s strategy, Hamilton told reporters: “It’s clear to me that they have chosen their number one driver so they’re going to be pushing everything to make sure Sebastian will get the maximum on all of his weekends.

“It’s very hard for the leading car (here) to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car…  so that’s very clear.”

He added: “The Ferrari seems to work everywhere so these next 14 races are going to be very difficult.

“Our car is not working everywhere we go, but the more races we do, the more we learn and the stronger we get.

“The Ferraris are not bullet-proof and they have things coming up too, potentially, with all the turbos they have used. So we will see.”

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Vettel beats Raikkonen in Monaco as team orders mar Ferrari one-two

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When Kimi Raikkonen celebrated his excellent pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix, he seemed to genuinely believe he would be given the chance to race fairly with teammate Sebastian Vettel.

He diplomatically pointed out he was racing for the team while also publicly letting it be known, “we are allowed to fight but we cannot take each other off”.

At the time, the extended comments from the Finn, more renowned for keeping his counsel, were a little odd.

Either he was fed up with the questioning and wanted it done with, or else he was using the post-qualifying press conference to make a point to his employers and the wider world in case events unfolded as many suspected they would come race day.

Team orders and Formula 1 seem forever set to be indelibly linked. Arguably, the first instance dates back to 1951 and an Alfa Romeo car swap between Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli after Fangio’s car hit trouble.

In the intervening 66 years, each time the issue appears to have gone to bed, it merely resurfaces, and so it has here.

In contrast to after qualifying, in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s race Raikkonen decided to keep his counsel but it was a face of thunder with which he greeted the crowds gathered at the street circuit.

The question prior to race was whether team orders would come into play or not. Staunch tifosi might suggest that wasn’t the case but it was a bizarre decision by Ferrari to bring him in on lap 34 when seemingly there was no desperate need to do so.

It led to him being caught in traffic, tripping up his charge enough for Vettel to stay out for a further five laps, set the fastest lap and get the jump on his teammate.

No wonder Raikkonen looked so livid but was he really surprised? Judging by his comments from 24 hours earlier, probably not.

It has already been assumed by everyone up and down the paddock that Vettel was Ferrari’s No.1 and Raikkonen the No.2.

But this was the first acid test, the first time properly that Raikkonen had brought the fight truly to his four-time world champion teammate – and very impressively it has to be said, not just in qualifying but the launch he got off the line in the race before pulling out a slim advantage.

This early into the season – barely a third of the way through – Ferrari were effectively asked if push came to shove would they pursue team orders.

They did even if when asked if it was planned Vettel’s response was “not really”.

But there should be no surprise. It has long been the team’s mantra, most notably when Michael Schumacher ruled the roost at the Prancing Horse for so many years, again to a lesser degree when Fernando Alonso was seen as the driver to revive the Maranello glory years, and it is apparent again.

Ferrari will be criticised for it but why? Raikkonen has been given chances to prove he deserves equal billing at the team, and that has not been warranted this season.

His race results read fourth, fifth, fourth, third, retired and second. With arguably the quickest and best performing car in full race trim that simply isn’t good enough.

In contrast, Vettel has been an astonishingly consistent performer come the Sunday of a race weekend and is yet to finish outside the top two in three races this season, Monaco his third victory of the current campaign.

And Ferrari know with a Vettel hegemony and Mercedes supposedly giving equal billing to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – well, at least a more equal billing – this gives them their best shot of catapulting Vettel to a fifth world title with Raikkonen hopefully chipping away to give them enough for the constructors’ championship.

Sure, fans would dearly love drivers to have a fair fight within a team and all credit for Mercedes for doing so.

But Vettel is the clear No.1 at Ferrari and has been for some time, and at least it was done this time for a modicum of grace and discretion.

In the past, Ferrari have not always done so: the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Rubens Barrichello slowed right down for a Schumacher victory, which led to boos of derision, is arguably the worst example.

But just seven years ago in Germany Felipe Massa markedly and grumpily slowed right down to let Alonso past.

The reality is team orders are here to stay.

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F1 round-up: Sebastian Vettel wins Monaco GP

Brendon Netto 28/05/2017

Sebastian Vettel delivered Ferrari their first Monaco Grand Prix in 16 years on Sunday with teammate and pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen in second.

Vettel's third win of 2017 increased his lead over Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' world championship to 25 points.

Behind the two Ferraris came the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo with Hamilton's teammate Valterri Bottas's Merecedes in fourth.

[inlinescript5] DRIVER OF THE DAY Hamilton started in 13th but the three-time former champion fought his way through the pack to claim seventh place. Despite being a two-time winner in Monaco, but the 32-year-old mysteriously struggled with the handling of his Mercedes car this weekend. Following his troubled performance in qualifying, he had it all to do on Sunday at a track where it is virtually impossible to overtake and he exceeded expectations. FASTEST LAP   BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT Jenson Button, replacing Fernando Alonso for this race only in the McLaren, was always towards the rear of the field before colliding with Pascal Wehrlein on lap 68. Button, in what is likely to be his last race, retired having sustained significant damage to the front left of his McLaren following the crash. What made it all the more disappointing was that he had a few good overtakes in the race before that collision. ONE TO WATCH On his Monaco debut with Force India, Esteban Ocon gave himself a mountain to climb after crashing out in the final session of qualifying on Saturday. However, despite starting in 15t, he put in a fine performance to finish in 10th place.

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