Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff has pinpointed where he feels the barometer for F1’s quickest car has fallen for 2024.

With the Spanish Grand Prix marking a return to what’s regarded as a ‘normal’ F1 circuit, it offered some insight into what the pecking order may be at similar circuits through the year.

Toto Wolff: McLaren and Red Bull setting the benchmark

With little demand for monstering the kerbs, a smooth (if demanding) surface, and a mix of medium-to-high-speed corners, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has long been regarded as the archetypal F1 track – lending itself well to its use as a pre-season testing venue for years.

While that has changed somewhat in recent years as more street circuits and ‘destination’ Grands Prix have crept onto the calendar, being strong at the likes of the Montmelo circuit usually means a car can be relied on to be quick on the majority of occasions due to its demand for aerodynamic efficiency, balance, and ride quality.

As a result, there was heightened anticipation heading to Spain last weekend as the race would serve as a good litmus test for recent upgrade packages that the teams have introduced over previous races – packages that the potential of couldn’t be fully assessed at the likes of Monaco and Montreal.

On race day, Mercedes’ George Russell couldn’t hold back Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while Lando Norris converted his pole position into a second-place finish after losing two places at the start – Mercedes and Ferrari not quite able to join in the fight for the victory, as Norris finished just two seconds off Verstappen at the chequered flag.

The two drivers have been the stars of the show so far this year, with Norris having claimed his first F1 victory in Miami – the pair have largely been inseparable on track ever since.

It’s led Wolff to ponder the question of which car is now F1’s quickest – a considerably more difficult one to answer than this time last year, as Wolff said Max Verstappen skews the outcome.

“The McLaren looked very quick,” Wolff told media, including, after the chequered flag.

“How quick? I think Max always has a little bit in his pocket and you can see that he makes the difference.

“Definitely these two at the moment, there’s not a lot between them. They are definitely setting the benchmark.”

Wolff has made his thoughts regarding the Dutch driver’s skills clear this year, as the Austrian has attempted to woo Verstappen to consider jumping into the cockpit left vacant by Lewis Hamilton for 2025.

Talk of that possibility has cooled considerably following Verstappen’s comments that money alone wouldn’t be enough to tempt him if a competitive car isn’t in tandem, and Wolff similarly dampened the chances of it occurring as he confirmed no talks are currently taking place.

“No, there’s no talks taking place at that stage because I think we need to look at ourselves and improve the car,” he said.

“I think we just need to continue to improve and look at ourselves. The most important thing is as a team with our drivers, Lewis and George, we’ve just got to get better and hopefully consolidate our ability to be on the podium, and at a certain stage be able to win races on our own.

“And if you have a good car, good drivers will want to come.”

More on the latest Mercedes F1 news

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How competitive is the Mercedes?

Mercedes had travelled to Barcelona with high hopes for their car, having been in the fight for victory in Montreal following Russell’s sensational pole position.

Recent upgrades to the W15, including a revised front wing, have brought the car to life and Lewis Hamilton duly claimed his first Grand Prix podium of the year in Spain after besting Russell in the latter stages of the race.

Hamilton finished 18 seconds off the victor in Barcelona, and Wolff admitted the W15 still has a slight pace deficiency to the McLaren MCL38 and Red Bull RB20.

“I think what you’ve seen [in qualifying and the race] is that the gap is probably around three-tenths to these two,” he explained. “That’s what’s missing.

“If we’re able to bridge that, bearing in mind they also put upgrades on the car, I think, then we could be racing for victory. But that’s not on the hands yet.

“Montreal, with the conditions, yeah, we could have won. But probably we surprised ourselves that we could, and that’s why we dropped the ball there.”

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