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Toto Wolff expects Nico Rosberg to be closer to Lewis Hamilton on race pace

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

SEPANG, Malaysia -- Mercedes boss Toto Wolff expects his drivers to be more evenly matched in Sunday's race than they were in Saturday's qualifying at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton beat Nico Rosberg to pole position by 0.414s in Malaysia after a dominant display in qualifying at the Sepang International Circuit. Hamilton appears to have had the upper hand all weekend, but Wolff says long run data points towards a much closer battle on Sunday.

"Yes, I think it's open because the pace on the long runs was not as different," he said. "We know with the current generation of the cars and the heat, tomorrow is going to be an exercise of how you make the car, the systems, the tyres, the engine and everything survive best. So I don't think it will be flat-out for one-and-a-half hours. Everything is possible. The start plays a big role."

Two weeks ago at the Singapore Grand Prix Rosberg outqualified Hamilton by 0.7s, making Hamilton's qualifying advantage in Sepang all the more surprising. Asked to explain the swing in performance, Wolff put it down to the feeling of the drivers within the car.

"It's quite surprising and when you hear them talking about why that is....they just don't feel as comfortable as the other driver in the car. Whether that is down to specific set up issues, Lewis was handicapped by the lack of running in Singapore.

"As big as those gaps might seem today, these two just keep pushing each other constantly. If one is on the back foot, suddenly we see such a big gap."

Mercedes is on target to secure the constructors' championship on Sunday, with a win and any other points-paying position enough to guarantee the title for a third consecutive year. Winning on title sponsor Petronas' home ground would be a huge PR coup for Mercedes, but Wolff said he did not feel the need to remind the drivers of the team's "rules of engagement" -- which were beefed up after the pair collided twice earlier in the year.

"The more we come to the end of these season and as close as it is between the two of them, there is a lot at stake. You're right, particularly in Malaysia, where we haven't been able to win the race last year, means we could secure the constructors trophy for Petronas and the Malaysian fans would be great.

"Do we need to remind them [of the rules of engagement]? They have had the odd moment but they know exactly about the effort in the background and obviously bringing it home in Malaysia would mean a lot to the team and Petronas and them. We have spent a week here doing activation. They know it's very important."