Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has slammed his own team’s qualifying performance at the Belgian Grand Prix, saying it was the worst he had known.

The team chief said it was “unacceptable” as he made a surprisingly emotional outburst following Mercedes’ day of disaster in Spa.

Wolff said he could not understand how they could be on pole at one race weekend and then 1.8 seconds off the pace at the following race three weeks later.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell qualified seventh and eighth but will start from fourth and fifth due to grid penalties handed out to rivals for taking new engines for Sunday’s race.

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“You can’t be on pole three weeks before — albeit for very different conditions, different track — and then be 1.8 seconds off the pace, at the next one,” Wolff told reporters.

“There’s something which we totally don’t understand, or seem to get right. Clearly, Red Bull is here in a league of their own.

“What is the next Ferrari — eight or nine tenths off? So, I don’t know what that is, but that is no consolation.

“For me, it’s the worst qualifying session that I have had in 10 years. Irrespective of what positions we are going to start tomorrow, just even being on pole at one weekend and then three weeks later being nowhere is just not acceptable for ourselves.”

Russell was on pole at the last race in Hungary before Formula 1’s ‘summer break’ where Hamilton finished second and he was third, their first double podium this year.

“If we could understand it, we could tune it,” Wolff added.

“But the car is draggy in a straight line — Lewis said it’s like a dragging a parachute behind him.

“And it is unstable on the rear. It under-steers, it bounces through the high speed and it gives no confidence. There is not one positive that I heard about how the car performs here this weekend and throughout the weekend.

“So, I think now it’s time to consolidate and decide what we do next.”

Russell said Mercedes’ chief problem was in warming their tyres in cool conditions, a problem they have suffered throughout this season.

“They are the overriding factor,” he said. “If you get the tyres in the right window, or the wrong window, it could be a second a lap difference… I think it is an inherent limitation in the car.”

After reeling off eight consecutive constructors’ championship triumphs, the team has struggled with this season’s new ‘ground effect’ formula and had problems with ‘porpoising’ and bouncing, but showed signs of recovery in recent months.

But any hopes of a first win of the season look a long way off judged by Saturday’s limp showing.

Sainz believes pole the key to thwarting Verstappen at Spa

Carlos Sainz conceded that he could not match Max Verstappen or Red Bull’s speed but believes he could still turn pole position into his second career victory for Ferrari in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The Spanish driver, who was second behind Red Bull’s world champion and series leader in Saturday’s qualifying, overcame a messy session to take the prime grid position thanks to Verstappen taking a grid penalty.

“It was a bit messy at first, but I managed to go second quickest on the first runs in Q3,” he said. “The out lap was a mess playing with the tow, but in the end I had to lead, with no tow, and it was good enough for P2.

“I knew that would be good enough to give me pole.”

Verstappen’s pace lifted him clear by 0.632 seconds, an advantage that left Sainz perplexed. “We are all a bit puzzled by it, so we wonder what will happen in the race,” he said.

“But I think our race pace is better than our qualifying pace so there is definitely something there for us to find.

“We just need to keep digging to see why Red Bull is so fast around this track and why we are trailing them, but to start from pole is a good place to start and we will try and win from there.”

Verstappen will start 15th, one place ahead of title rival Charles Leclerc, who trails him by 80 points. Both drivers have taken new engines for the race.

Grid for Belgian Grand Prix 2022

Front row: Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari), Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)

2nd row: Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault), Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)

3rd row: George Russell (GBR/Mercedes), Alex Albon (THA/Williams-Mercedes)

4th row: Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes), Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Red Bull)

5th row: Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)

6th row: Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes), Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)

7th row: Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Red Bull), Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo)*

8th row: Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull)*, Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)*

9th row: Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)*, Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes)*

10th row: Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo)*, Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari)*

* Seven drivers including world champion Max Verstappen who posted the fastest time were hit with penalties and demoted to the back for the fitting of new power units and parts to their cars.

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