Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff attended the Australian Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the transcript.
Q: Welcome to you all. We’re back at Melbourne, racing for the first time since 2019. Can we start just by getting all of your thoughts on being back here in Albert Park. Toto, perhaps we could start with you?
Toto WOLFF: Yeah, it’s nice to be back in Australia. Since we left last time around without even driving the cars – but the fans are tremendous, the sport is big here, you can see that, and yeah, for me it’s always enjoyable to come to the other side and stand upside down for a while.
Q: Toto coming to you now, it’s been a difficult start for you guys in 2022. And for you as team boss, it’s uncharted territory, really. I just wanted to start by asking you, how hard are you finding the current performance level?
TW: I’ve been in this situation before in life, and you just need to be humble about it. When I said last year with the new regulations, how things were set up, that we could have a different pecking order. And this is exactly what’s happened. Like Fred said, the midfield is very, very compressed and we’re just not quick enough, full stop. There are so many areas where we know we can improve, others where we don’t comprehend the car yet. And we just need to concentrate on ourselves and chip away, the performance. The team is still the same, that won many of the Championships.
Q: Do you still believe in the potential of the W13?
TW: Yes, I do. Because what is the other solution? To dial back and go back many months and then put that car on the track? I don’t think this is feasible. Because it wouldn’t bring us forward in terms of performance compared to the other ones. It’s a relative game. So we have, at that stage, no choice than to understand. And whatever the outcome may be, from our understanding, we may change or tweak the car.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Just wanted your reaction to the Las Vegas confirmation. And also, more generally, your thoughts on the challenge of getting the right balance between the new big-paying tracks and the classic venues in Europe? Are you worried that we might lose a few of them?
TW: I think Stefano is doing a brilliant job, between balancing out new, interesting venues, not only from a financial standpoint, but also for tapping new audiences. And I think being in the years now with a second and third is fantastic, especially in Miami and Las Vegas – doesn’t go any better. The truth is that I don’t think that most of the fans that are watching Formula 1 through TV or social media, they don’t really mind where we’re racing. It’s my opinion. Like Fred said. Baku isn’t a traditional race, but it’s fantastic content. So, racing in those iconic places is important for the fans, for the local fans. And you can see it here: great audiences. So, getting that balance right is not trivial. But Stefano, so far, has done that really well.
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Q: (Frédéric Ferret – L’Equipe) It looks like some teams have sought clarification with the FIA, according to the Haas car. I would like to know your thoughts about the Haas car. Is it too similar to the Ferrari?
TW: Oh, difficult question! I mean, Haas has made a huge jump from being last, the way they were into being… having been solid and into Q3, I think, in Bahrain. So that’s an interesting step. For us, it’s a learning exercise, because as an organisation, we have 2000 people and we’ve been successful in the past, and suddenly you’re fighting a team that’s much smaller in size. So, they must have done a super job.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) It’s a question about the Volkswagen Group and maybe the Porsche and Audi brands entering Formula 1. They had a meeting this week, no final decision yet, but they do seem to be inching closer, however slow that progress might be. I just wondered, as representatives of engine manufacturers and teams, there has already been a concession made in dropping the MGU-H to try and make it more attractive to engine manufacturers. Would you be willing to make any more concessions in terms of added resources, extra dyno time, that sort of thing? Or would you be concerned about the impact that would have on those manufacturers, and any teams that use those engines?
TW: Yeah, it’s great if the Volkswagen Group joins Formula 1. Fantastic brand increases the credibility of what we do. And they are racers. But as far as I understand, there is no firm commitment yet. They’ve been sitting on the table for the regulations but before that commitment isn’t actually confirmed, we can’t really know what the plans are.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question about Australia’s placement on the calendar this year. Normally, it runs either as the season opener or as a back-to-back. What are your thoughts on having it as a standalone event? How much pressure is that created from a logistical point of view and on your personnel?
TW: I’m sure that Stefano is going to streamline that for next year, to make it easier with logistics. At the end, we love coming here, but it puts strain on the people that isn’t yet felt so much because we’re just at race three in the calendar. But certainly it takes a toll on us, on our people.
Q: So when you say streamline, do you mean run this race back to back with another one?
TW: Yeah, I think this is an idea we are all on. You know, the Middle East is on the way to Australia and on the way back and I think like it has been in the past.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Just to come back to Fred’s question from earlier about Haas. Presumably what Haas is doing at the moment is within the regulations, whether it’s what used to be called the listed and non-listed parts, and the restrictions around shared facilities, that kind of thing. Is your issue that we might be moving to a point now where the regulations need to change and those relationships aren’t necessary anymore where we have an F1 that is more cost efficient? Teams can compete with fixed prices, that kind of thing. You don’t necessarily need that level of assistance to be competitive and to be a proper F1 team.
TW: I think it needs reform, because we want to avoid these kinds of discussions that we have now, the polemic around the last few days or last few weeks, everybody deserves to perform well, and people should get credit when they’ve done a good job. But some of the job-hopping or entity-hopping on the same premises is just creating arguments that are not necessary for the sport. So definitely for us, you know, we have Aston Martin in the wind tunnel that we had two years ago. Quite a shitstorm about that. We have been handling them with the utmost diligence. But going forward, if we were to need to compromise our, let’s say, income ability, we need to do this, because none of the teams should be able to cooperate in a way that we’re seeing today, with some of the teams.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Following on from Adam’s question about Vegas. From a commercial standpoint, we’ve seen a big influx of big US tech companies into F1. Over the past few months, how much do you think a third race in the US is going to help accelerate that? And from a commercial point of view, just how much of a feather in F1’s cap is it to have such a race?
OTMAR Szafnauer: Well, the US tech companies continue to do well. You know, I always said the biggest mistake of my life was not buying Apple and Microsoft and some of the others when I was younger…
TW: That’s quite a mistake.
OS: It was a big mistake, don’t remind me! But you know, we, for example, have Microsoft, and they’re enjoying our relationship, and they want to do more with us. And I think going to Miami and going to Vegas, and having the sport popular in the United States, will only help with attracting more of the tech companies.
TW: Look, I think that if what I heard is correct, the Austin race last year was the biggest single sport event in the US, which is a great testimony that Formula 1 has finally arrived in America. The iconic venues that we’re going to race in, Miami and Las Vegas, in addition to Austin, which has become one of the traditional circuits, is great. It’s tapping these new audiences. And you can see that it’s been translated into a serious interest from big, great corporations in the US and it’s almost like you’re seeing a transition from the traditional partners into big tech players. And that’s good.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) Toto, there is speculation linking the Aston Martin Formula 1 team with Audi from 2026 onwards. Now you are a shareholder in Aston Martin Lagonda, the sports car company, as well as the Mercedes group. Is that something you would even allow to be evaluated? And Fred, similar question to you. Your team is being linked with Audi as well. Have you had any discussions with your main shareholder about this?
TW: You sound like C3PO, but appreciate the time at home. We only hear these things through the news, as you do. The relationship we have with Aston Martin is beyond the racing team. It is deeply ingrained in the car company. So this is where we stand. We really enjoy having the partnership. But I haven’t got any information beyond that.