Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will be absent from this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix as he undergoes knee surgery.
The 51-year-old is set to have an operation in his native Austria to restore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg.
Wolff damaged his knee a number of years ago and blamed it for a cycling accident during Formula One’s summer break which left him with a fractured elbow.
Wolff’s role will be divided between a number of the team’s staff – including driver development director Jerome D’Ambrosio, the Belgian who took part in 20 F1 races in 2010 and 2011, and Mercedes’ long-serving British chief communications officer Bradley Lord – often seen shadowing Wolff at the back of the garage. It is understood Wolff will be on the team’s intercom across the weekend.
Mercedes will head to Suzuka perhaps fearing that their best shot at victory this year may have escaped them following Carlos Sainz’s triumph at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s Sainz became the first non-Red Bull driver to win this season – ending the world champions’ unbeaten streak and Max Verstappen’s record run of 10 consecutive victories.
Lewis Hamilton finished third, just 1.2 seconds behind Sainz, after George Russell – who at one point looked likely to win following Mercedes’ roll of the strategy dice – crashed out on the final lap.
Verstappen qualified 11th and finished fifth, 21 seconds adrift of Sainz. But Hamilton fears Red Bull’s lack of speed on the streets of Singapore is because they have already turned their attention to next season.
While Verstappen can now not be crowned champion of the world for a third time in Japan, it is possible he could clinch the title in Qatar on October 8 with five rounds still left.
And asked if Red Bull’s blip provided him with hope Verstappen’s dominance could be coming to an end, Hamilton, 38, said: “If you think about it, they probably haven’t been developing their car.
“McLaren brought an upgrade here. Other teams are still bringing upgrades, and they’re working on next year’s car. They would have definitely migrated to 2024 before us.
“So it is just one of those things. They are so far ahead that maybe they’re not developing their car, while we are still pushing to develop our current one.”
Verstappen, who warned in the build-up to Sunday’s city-state race that the high-downforce street track would not suit Red Bull, said he expects to be back on top in Suzuka.
Wolff, who is likely to return for the Qatar GP, added: “They will be strong again. The track in Singapore was an outlier for us when we were dominant and I have no doubt they will be strong on conventional race tracks.”