Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff attended the Styrian Grand Prix Friday Press Conference. Here is the transcript.
Q: We’ve had a thrilling start to the season with some great on-track battles between your teams. What can we expect here this weekend? Who’s the hunter, who’s the hunted?
Toto WOLFF: I think hunter, definitely. I think we were good in France but we got it wrong with how the race panned-out. We could have been more active. In terms of race speed, we were good. It’s going to swing. It’s going to swing both directions, I believe, depending on the circuit. France should have been more to our advantage, Austria less, but having said that, the championship is long. There are at least 15 races to go. It will be about who can make the least mistakes. Who can optimise the strategy and collect points. DNFs can play a role but certainly at the moment, we’re hunting.
Q: Toto, you said after the race on Sunday that you gambled and you lost. Why do you feel the need to gamble?
TW: I didn’t mean it in the way of gambling. I’m not a gambler, I don’t like to bet on something that I’m not in control of – but there’s two Red Bulls now that are in the window and Checo was perfect because he was just in the right window that, if we would have pitted, he was right there. He stayed out. And, we were racing between our two guys, for all the right reasons, I believe, but when you’re having a competitor that’s as good as Red Bull this year, you’ve just got to plan and execute in the best possible way for the team.
Q: In terms of the planning, can you give us some insight into what’s gone on at the factory this week? What lessons have been learned from Sunday and how much input have the drivers had?
TW: The drivers played an important role. They did lots of laps in the simulator and we’re still experimenting with the set-up. You can get it right and then you land on Friday and the car drives or you can get it wrong. Obviously that gives an advantage of how fast your development curve or performance curve is over the weekend. So, they were part of it – but still, it’s learning in progress and that’s what any team should do, even if you’ve won the Championship seven times in a row.
Q: Toto, while we’re talking driver contracts, Lewis mentioned yesterday that you’ve started contract talks for next year. How hungry is he to carry on?
TW: Very hungry. It’s a very new situation for him, that it is so tight in the battle with another team and another driver and I see him in very good spirits.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) A question about the new FIA technical directive regarding the pit stop. Toto, can we get your thoughts please on the TD?
TW: To be honest, I’d tried to read it but it’s very complex in length. We had internally some question marks about some of these things but it’s the technical people, including the sporting director, who are in charge of that area.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Christian, you and Toto, you’ve been together in your post-race interview at Sky and I do remember you said that payback regarding the front wing would come within a couple of weeks, I believe was the wording you used. Can you update us on progress on any steps that have happened since then – and when do you expect a new TD to kick-in potentially – and I’d be happy if both of you could elaborate on their general positions on the matter.
Christian HORNER: I think obviously a lot of noise was made about the rear wing. New tests were introduced and the car has obviously fully complied with those rules at all times – but it would be disingenuous of the FIA not to look at the front wing in the same way. And of course, we’ve seen footage across recent races and obviously we’re just looking for consistency. Consistency of application of the regulations that deal with the rear wing, and obviously the front wing falls into that same category. And so the main thing we are seeking through all of this is a consistent application.
Q: Toto, your thoughts please.
TW: Yeah, consistency is important and, like Christian says, it’s a competitive field, a competitive sport where it’s about exploiting and where Red Bull is today is where we have been over many years. I remember DAS last year, and you’re trying to gain a competitive advantage and it’s fair enough now on front wings. Same thing. If there is something to look at, then the FIA will look at it and whatever the decision is, we will go with that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Did you have some form of soft landing in terms of the budget cap? I know the FIA extended a soft landing to Ferrari – and if so, does it expire at the end of this month and are you fully in line with reducing staff and resources accordingly?
TW: I think you cannot call it ‘soft landing’ because if you have a structure like we have, it’s never soft. It was not always pleasant to reduce your population, to say the least, and we are really trying to comply to the dot with these new regulations and it will mean the whole organisation, the whole way we’re dealing with cost, a totally different game. So, there wasn’t any soft landing.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Question for Christian… sorry for Toto, though he’s also called Christian incidentally. Toto, I believe that you put some of your supercars up for sale. The obvious question then is: has this got something to do with the fact that you would, as an equal shareholder of Mercedes and Ineos, be liable for an equal amount of investment in the team going forward?
TW: No (laughs). It has a more simple background. I don’t get to drive the cars anymore. I don’t have enough time. I don’t think it looks particularly good if I was cruising around with a Ferrari, although it is a fantastic brand. But I haven’t driven the cars for a long time and I’m going electric with Mercedes at the moment.
Q: (Julien Billiotte – Auto Hebdo) Do you feel the championship battle is as intense between Lewis and Max on track as it is between you guys personally off track?
TW: Yeah, it’s a combative sport, on track, off track. But that is only noise. The true performance happens on the track. It’s lap time. You are either good enough or not and if you are not you have to acknowledge that and try to gain some performance back and the other way round.
Q: How different is the fight when it is an inter-team battle rather than an intra-team one, because both of your teams have dominated in their time, How different is this?
TW: Well, both have interesting aspects. The intra-team battle, which we had for quite a while, is obviously easier to handle because the drivers are part of the team, they are in the same car, while fighting with another team, you don’t really know where the performance advantages and disadvantages are and you can see that swinging. That’s difficult because you are dealing with imperfect information, many variables that you don’t know, but both are equally enjoyable for me.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Following up on the TD around the pit stops. Toto, just to follow up on something you said earlier about some question marks internally, could you elaborate at all in what context you had questions?
TW: Yeah, I’ve already been told which buttons I shouldn’t press, and stuff. You know it’s interesting to see because there must be a reason why that TD has come up and I’m not 100% sure. The operation of the wheel gun and the release of the car is a highly complex matter and I’m certainly… All of us in the team are up for competition because it’s a competitive field. But there is also the safety argument. And Christian mentioned it before: you put everything into your pit stop so you avoid your wheel detaching or coming off as the penalties are enormous. We in the past had a policy of making sure that that wouldn’t happen, and that also meant to have some circuit-breakers in the system, in a way that that could never happen and that slows you down in the pit stops. But that was our own decision. It had nothing to do with anyone else. Fast pit stops are nice to have and they look cool, but I am not 100% sure that they are such a huge performance differentiator, because we are talking about a tenth or two on average, not talking about the slowest or fastest pit stops. Yeah, it’s been interesting to see where that came from and what the basis was.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Toto, Lewis has mentioned a couple of times in recent days about the straight-line speed of the Red Bull at Paul Ricard. Obviously, there was a new Honda engine in France. Do Mercedes have any question marks about how that speed was attained given the restrictions on engine development during the season?
TW: Well, the restrictions are pretty clear. The power unit is homologated; you can only come up with reliability fixes and in a way bug-cleaning, so there shouldn’t be any difference. Red Bull chose to run a very low-drag rear wing or generally aero configuration, which clearly when you see the speed differences in Ricard made a big difference. And now it’s about seeing what happens here, but as a matter of fact they were very strong. They ran a low wing and they were still as competitive as us through the corners and that shows that the car has downforce. We just need to do our homework and to continue to improve rather than pointing a figure on the engine. This is all in the FIA territory and it is much too early to say anything like this, that the engine is more powerful. There are so many things that play a role.
CH: I think Toto has answered it very well and I think maybe he should explain it to his driver. I listen with interest and sometimes some of the theories Lewis has are sometimes some way from reality. I think he has actually summarised it very well. We run less drag and we run lower wing and as a result of that you tend to go a bit quicker down the straight sometimes.
TW: I think there is a factor that needs to be considered. The driver is in the car and he has the feeling and he sees the traction and pull-away, there was a difference in DRS and on-DRS zones. It’s pretty clear that the perspective and the feeling that the driver has is really important, especially Lewis, there is no better one to him. But what we need to say is that you need to look at the whole thing. There aren’t any miracles. You can’t bring a second power unit that’s homologated and go three tenths quicker. It was a low-drag configuration; the car was very quick indeed, quicker than ours in qualifying. It is what it is and we need to fix that.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Toto, there are suggestions in the paddock that possibly Mercedes pre-empted or triggered the pit stop investigation, which then became a technical directive. Can you assure us that this had nothing to do with Mercedes, that all this happened without any knowledge from Mercedes? Another short question: at the end of this month James Allison hands over and becomes Chief Technical Officer. Is the handover fully in place and what are the implications of that handover.
TW: On the pit stop we enquired with the FIA on a safety mechanism, which is related to a system that we are using and whether that could be optimised. I would say that this was three or four weeks ago and it was a technology question. Did that trigger anything else? Maybe. I don’t know. And in terms of James Allison. He’s a mega guy but we won’t be missing the directness, sharpness and sometimes rude jokes because he is staying with us, he becomes CTO. He is going to overlook all the technical activities between power units, the chassis, Formula E and the other activities, America’s Cup, etc, so he is part of the gang and he remains part of the gang. And Mike Elliott, I’ve been working with him since 2013. He joined a few months before me as Head of Aero and since then we have had a friendship. He is unbelievably bright. I sometimes have to pinch myself that I am able to work with such an intelligent person. Beyond that we share very much management philosophies and we can talk for hours about neuro-scientific developments and psychology. Just a phenomenal person.
Q: (Louis Dekker – NOS) Apart from Lewis versus Max what is your favourite F1 rivalry and why?
TW: Yeah, there have been great rivalries. The ones that Christian mentioned. I think it changes over time and the generation today is very different to the ones in the old. But you go through the tunnel here and you see all those unbelievable Formula 1 stars. I think it starts with Schumacher and there is Senna, Hunt, and you remember that they all had absolutely amazing performances, world champions, but they also had rivalries. That was part of their journey. Yeah, we have an unbelievable world champion in the team, the best ever, breaking all of the records and now we have a rival and that is good fun and good to watch. It is certainly very good for the sport. The audiences show thatl, sponsors are keen to be part of that fight and at the end it’s good.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Lewis was talking yesterday about Valtteri Bottas and he said he was a fantastic tem-mate and “I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change”. How much input will Lewis have into the decision on his team-mate for next year?
TW: Well, Lewis is part of the team and has always been in the inner circle of decision-making because simply we value his opinion and in the same way when we are talking about drivers there is nothing we are not sharing with him; it’s transparent. But the other way around too: when I speak to Valtteri it’s open and when I speak to George, it’s very much open, because I don’t want to have any hidden agendas. We need to evaluate the situation for the future. Valterri had some really good weekends but he also had some off weekends and we just need to minimise those and then we will take a decision and whatever decision we will be taking, Valterri or George, the person that is involved in that will be hearing that first and that is the driver.