Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff attended the Azerbaijan Grand Prix Saturday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Toto, let’s talk about this weekend. So far it doesn’t look to have been a straightforward one for Mercedes. How’s progress?
Toto WOLFF: It’s like Guenther says, you’re a bit better on one racetrack, and worse on the other one. I think where we are is a realistic assessment: we’re third on the road. Sometimes we are a bit closer to the Ferrari and Red Bulls, sometimes we fall a little back and sometimes we are challenged by the good cars of the midfield. And this is just how it is at the moment and we need to work ourselves out of it. It’s science, physics and not mystics. And that can sometimes take time.
Q: Is there a sense of frustration starting to build that you haven’t been able to maintain that Barcelona form?
TW: I think it is a normal consequence if you have been successful over many years, that suddenly you find yourself in such a dip, and you’re doing your normal work that has been successful in the past but it just doesn’t bring the results, and it’s clear that sometimes a feeling of frustration keeps creeping in. But we are very honest about it. There’s a lot to look forward for, we know that there is inherent performance in the car. We just haven’t been able to unlock it properly.
Q: What are the issues here, specifically in Baku?
TW: We are facing the same issues when the car is not quick, and that is we have a porpoising – but others like Ferrari has it too here, even a bit worse. But at different pieces of the track, we are bottoming-out badly, which affects our aerodynamic, and affects our straight-line speed greatly. And as a consequence, the ride is not very good. And this can cost several tenths, and yesterday we were losing a second on all straights to Ferrari and Red Bull.
Q: Can we talk driver contracts now? Sergio Pérez has just signed with Red Bull Racing until the end of 2024. And given that Lewis’ contract only goes until the end of ’23, and you said last time that you didn’t want to leave it as late as you did with him, then, is his future firmly on your radar now?
TW: Are we starting talking 2024 contracts? June 2022? No, we are in a happy place with Lewis and there is no doubt that we are embarking the season and the next one in a good place. But it’s too early to discuss 2024. But having said that, I couldn’t wish for a better driver pairing.
Q: One final one for me. In other news, Lewis is producing a film about Formula 1. Has he asked you to star in it?
TW: Well, we’ve discussed the kind of narrative and how that’s all going to come together. And certainly there’s… if it comes, it’s going to be a great movie.
Q: And I’m sure he’s told you that Brad Pitt is playing you. Is that right?
TW: I don’t think I can say too much. But if it were like this, I think that’s cool.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jon Noble – motorsport.com) The drivers, one-third of the way through the season seem a bit frustrated and weary of the porpoising. That constant bouncing, constant frustrations with the set-up. George Russell suggested yesterday it’s got to the point where F1 needs to think seriously about: do we want these cars now for the next four years, to endure this for a lot more time? Do we need to rethink the concept, or do something? Do you think we stick with these current cars and the way they continue to porpoise? Or do we need to rethink something to alleviate these porpoising problems?
TW: I think we’ve seen cars that don’t have the issue. And then others who have it have it worse, clearly. I can talk for our two drivers: they are having issues and it goes to a point that even a physio can’t fix it sometimes. So, we need to see how that develops. And understand also why it’s much tougher in some cars than in others.
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans) We were speaking a bit yesterday to the drivers about the Race Directors and the fact that we’ve got two and that they’ve been flip-flopping and things like that. And the consistency. I just wondered your thoughts on the consistency, if maybe there should be a third added or we should just have one throughout the full season? Thank you.
TW: Yeah, like Mattia said, it’s a difficult job because you’re also in the spotlight and certainly, Monaco, when you’re thrown into this weather condition, climate, and then suddenly you need to make decisions, that is very, very difficult. And I think the more races will pass, the more experience they will get, the more they will cope also with the pressure that Formula 1 brings with it. But they are part of Formula 1, as are the teams, as the teams make mistakes, and sometimes you really blame, because a wheels not on the car, or you get the strategy wrong, so, in the same way the Race Director is in the firing line. So, it’s… I think the same for everyone.
Q: (Filip Cleeren – motorsport.com) It seems like the discussion about potential salary cap for drivers has flared up in recent weeks. Can I have your opinion on that and also is there a potential knock-on effect for young drivers trying to find backers if their return on investment is limited?
TW: Certainly, it has come up as a controversial topic. We can see that we are facing a very difficult situation in Formula 1 overall. The sport is booming and Formula 1 is earning more money and that trickles down to the teams but we have a cost cap. We have $140m for a thousand people. With inflation, we haven’t been able to even pay the inflation and I think the talk about 30 or 40 million dollar salary allowance is inadequate when you take that perspective. Now, clearly, the drivers will have an opinion on that and maybe as a driver I would say the same thing but US American leagues, that are the most successful in the world, have introduced salary caps 15 years ago. It works pretty well over there and Formula 1 is looking at it without an immediate solution to it, but I think, like all the other sports in the world, we need to find a way of how we can act sustainably and become independent from sovereign funds or state-owned teams and therefore it is certainly clear that this is going to be one of the main areas because you can’t simply have a salary bill in some of the top teams that is 30, 40, 50m when the rest of the team needs to be divided in $140m. But having said that, they are tremendous superstars, they deserve to be among the top earners in the sport. In terms of direct salaries they already are and then we need to find a way of unlocking the endorsement… the capability of doing endorsement deals which is two thirds if not more for US American sports teams but certainly, direct salaries, Formula 1 drivers are paid the most.
TW: By the way, one more point. We shouldn’t be including the top earners in the team. I think in order to make it sustainable, everyone should be covered by the cost cap and it’s only the drivers but it’s also the team principals and the senior management.
Q: (Adam Cooper – motorsport.com) Any thoughts on the departure of Peter Bayer and the job he’s one over the last few years. He’s obviously been a very important link between you and the FIA and also thoughts on his interim replacement, and especially Mattia, any concerns that someone with close links to another team is now in that job, even if it is temporary?
TW: Yeah, we worked with Peter Bayer for quite some time and he was a rational guy. I personally enjoyed having him as a sparring partner but the FIA is changing its structure and its organisation and the president has to make his decisions and we certainly shouldn’t interfere into any of those decisions. I think he has a vision about where he wants to have the FIA and if part of that is a change of organisation, we need to respect it. As for Shaila-Ann, she was at the FIA before she joined us. She was chief executive officer of one of the largest sports agencies before and what the positive is of having Shaila-Ann in this position, she’s one about governance and transparency. She’s a lawyer and I think this is something which we have always criticised in the past that things weren’t always as transparent and as clear for the teams. I think this is one of the key topics that she will be trying to implement and that is good news for all of the teams.
Q: (Aaron Decker – Racing News 365) Toto, you said before that porpoising is costing you a lot on the straight. Are you also afraid that maybe the engine is less strong this year than Ferrari and engine of Red Bull?
TW: I think our engine guys made a great job in understanding how we can optimise the software and the deployment of the power unit since the beginning of the year. So our problem here is not the engine, we have a car that is that is too draggy so the drivers made the comment that it seems like we are having a parachute behind the car. So we need to, I think, between the draggy car, and the bottoming, this is the main effect that we are seeing here on the straight. In Barcelona we had a big rear wing and the car was pretty stable on the straight and we were among the quickest, but there’s never one thing and certainly the engine is not the area that I would want to point at that stage.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing News 365) I noticed a slight difference in terminology between Toto’s answer about the salary situation and Mattia’s. Toto used use the word salary allowance, whereas Mattia spoke about a salary cap. Regardless of whether it’s what the top three or the drivers only or whatever, my understanding is that there would actually be an allowance within an overall budget cap for the drivers and that teams would be allowed to pay the drivers over and above that, if they so wished. Could you comment on that, please?
Mattia BINOTTO: I can start. I think you’re right. I was wrong myself in calling it cap, I should have called it allowance, because this is the right way to approach at least the exercise. The solution you are trying to describe I think is one of the solution we discussed but is not the solution we at least so far agreed because things that, as I said before, there is not an easy solution. So it will be an allowance in case but still many discussion will need to be in place and it will take time.
TW: Yeah, clearly, just repeat what Mattia said, it’s not a short-term thing. Contracts need to be respected. And clearly, in the US American Leagues, the team owners, the management can decide where to deploy the salaries. They have a squad of 80 or 90 people and you can still decide to go for a big superstar and out-pay all the other top people in the other teams. So the allowance is certainly one of the possible solutions going forward, so that the team can decide where it wants to deploy the investment.