Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff attended the Las Vegas Grand Prix Thursday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Toto, if we could come to you now. Tell us about Vegas and your experiences of the event.
Toto WOLFF: Well, it’s big. For me it’s a first, in Vegas. I must really say that the job that Liberty has done is phenomenal, considering that this was over two years. I think this was a construction site here a year ago. And then to pull that off, you really need to take your hat off. And it’s going to become a fixture, and I think an important fixture for the sport.
Q: And in terms of performance, do you think the W14 is going to be more competitive here than it was last time out in Brazil?
TW: We didn’t have the tyres… so… you can’t say Tom. We didn’t have a proper lap, the tyres were never in the window and… too early.
Q: But do you understand why you had the problems last time out?
TW: We do, yeah. We were a little bit… we got it wrong with some of the tuning we did on the car, and, with a Sprint race weekend… you can’t change that. If we’d had an FP2 session it would have been so obvious that we were in the wrong spot – but this is how it goes. Same for everybody and we got that wrong.
Q: And when you reflect on 2023 Toto. I mean, you look like you’re going to have a better finish in the Constructors’ Championship than you did last year. Do you feel it’s been a better season in terms of execution for the team?
TW: Well, second is not a given. Ferrari is just 20 points or so behind us and, like Zak said, this is a street circuit, many things can happen and I think it’s between the two of us, you see who can score more points here and in Abu Dhabi. But in any case, if we look back in ten years, and we look at the score and say we finished second in the World Championship after winning eight years and then a third, you would say that is respectable – but if there is one guy that wins all of the other races, you can’t say that any more. We just need to do a better job to be competitive. The season was a rollercoaster, up and down. Some very promising races, like in Austin and Mexico, which we could have won – but could have is not enough. And then Brazil. So, I hope we can end it on a more positive note. Here the unknown and then Abu Dhabi.
Q: Toto, just can we just get your thoughts on the ramifications of what happened in FP1?
TW: Like Fred said, at the end, this is a mega spectacle, it’s going to set a new standard for the sport and that’s important. And then we have track action and a drain cover that’s become undone. There was another. I remember Williams 2012. I think we had it in DTM with Bernd Maylander, which nearly exploded the car. It’s not new and that can happen. It’s a brand new circuit. I saw the picture and it’s a part of the concrete that has broken out, so yeah, it’s a shame for the people here but these things can happen.
If you like SilverArrows.Net, consider supporting us by buying us a coffee!
Q: (Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) The drivers yesterday were speaking about how an event like this is costing them a lot of time in terms of their jet lag, because of the timing that we’re doing, they’re doing a lot of social events and stuff like that. They were also saying on Saturday that they feel that maybe they’re doing too much. Do you think the drivers are going to be compromised in a race like this when everyone’s expecting so much from them?
TW: Yeah, I think like Fred said, you know, we are suffering on a high level here, OK. I think if you talk about jet lag and stress, you speak about 80% of the team people that fly economy class, that have Monday to Friday jobs in the factory, that work on the cars here overnight. We have 190 people here, most of them deployed on marketing. They’ve been, some of them. since four weeks in Las Vegas, preparing everything. So that’s the contribution that everybody needs to give to the sport. And I’m sure that the majority of the drivers will see it that way.
James Vowles: I think it’s been well said. It’s a first world problem in as much as we’re in a good state, the sport is in a really healthy state. That’s why we have sponsors, partners and a show here fundamentally, exactly as Zak said. Our drivers are being pulled left, right and centre. But it’s a good thing. If you compared to where we were in 2020 we were worried if Formula 1 would even continue. It’s an absolute pleasure now to at least see that we’re in a good financial state. It’s just an optimisation problem. And there’s two things in there. So jet lag. First and foremost, I think what perhaps we didn’t fully realise until we got here is this isn’t really eastern coast time, we’re now more into Tokyo time to a certain extent with the hours we’re running. But that’s just an optimisation. They’re incredibly good at working with their trainers, re-orientating their food patterns and nutrition in order to get themselves back into the rhythm, and I think by tonight and by tomorrow that there’ll be completely on the time. As Toto said, the problem impacts 100 people really, not just the two that are there. The second of those is that constantly, for probably the last 10 years, we’ve been trying to balance the requirements for partners against the requirements for performance on track. And I think we’re in a fairly good place at the moment.
TW: The mechanics don’t have anybody, physios, cuddling them before they go to bed and preparing their granola in the morning. So I think there’s many that really suffer more and drink an espresso too.
Q: (Christian Menath – Motorsport-magazin.com) What do you think about General Motors and their commitment to build their own engine?
TW: Well, GM is one of the big players, no doubt. And I guess if they say they want to join the sport in ‘28, they’re serious about it and it’s a good commitment. But, you know, we need to see whether the Commercial Rights Holder deems this to be a good entry or not. Like James said, for many teams it is big dilution that can make the difference between, you know, big losses or less losses. And I haven’t changed my opinion on that. We haven’t seen any data, just to say it’s going be awesome. Where’s the case? What are the numbers? How much can we gain in popularity? What’s the name worth? How much more can the sport be attractive? What are the facts? And if those facts are positive, I have no doubt that F1 will consider that in that way.
Q: (Jordan Bianchi – The Athletic) Considering everything that went into this, how is this not considered a black eye for Formula 1? And granted, yes, this happens elsewhere but with everything that went into this race, and everything that transpired, how does Formula 1 move forward from this?
TW: That is not a black eye. This is nothing. We are Thursday night, we have a Free Practice 1 session that we’re not doing. They’re going to seal the drain covers and nobody’s going to talk about that tomorrow morning anymore…
Q: (Off mic follow-up from separate questioner)
TW: Did you ask the question? It’s completely ridiculous, completely ridiculous! FP1, how can you even dare trying to talk bad about an event that sets the new standards, new standards to everything. And then you’re speaking about a fucking drain cover that’s been undone, that has happened before. That’s nothing. It’s FP1. Give credit to the people that have set up this Grand Prix, that have made the sport much bigger than it ever was. Have you ever spoken good about someone and written a good word? You should about all these people that have been out here. Liberty has done an awesome job. And just because in FP1 a drain cover has become undone, we shouldn’t be moaning. The car is broken, that’s really a shame. For Carlos, it could have been dangerous, so between the FIA and the track and everybody needs to analyse how we can make sure that this is not happening again. But talking here about a black eye for the sport on a Thursday evening. Nobody watches that in European time anyway.
JV: I’d probably just add, judge us by what happens when the chequered flag falls on Saturday, rather than what’s just happened in the last half an hour.
TW: Bravo, much more eloquently said than me, but that’s the point.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) The same question to Toto and Fred, but Fred, I understand if you don’t want to comment, given what you said earlier, but looking at the season overall, I know it’s not the topic of the moment, but it’s not been the season Ferrari and Mercedes have wanted. I just wondered, for both of you, when was the exact moment and where were you that you realised that things weren’t going to go as well as you’d hoped in terms of kind of your car?
TW: Bahrain testing. No, I think from a Mercedes standpoint, we had a really good end of the season in 2022 and we believed that we can fix this, stick to the concept of the car and get better out of the blocks in ‘23. And already in testing, we could see that that didn’t happen. The drivers basically described the same pattern of behaviour of the car, it was unpredictable, no rear end and it was clear that this is not going to go our way.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Toto, I’d like to ask your question about Kimi Antonelli and his progression – a change of subject I know. Mercedes has normally taken quite a gradual approach with its young drivers but to fast track him from Formula Regional into Formula 2 is quite a big step up. How much of a statement is that from Mercedes and the belief you’ve got in his talent, and I also saw on Susie’s Instagram that he was out go-karting with Jack. Is he helping Jack get into racing and karting?
TW: You’re really saving the day with the questions. So, we got Kimi under the wings in 2012, actually, it was you, no [to James Vowles]? And he was a great kid already then. You could see the character, he was strong. We had him in the garage and there was a lot of confidence. And then in go-karting his track record was immense, and then you put him in the junior formulas and he wins every single season in his rookie year. But we’ve got to be careful because there’s a lot of hype around Kimi. Putting him into F2 is a big step because those cars are heavier and much more powerful. But if we give him his time, and don’t expect him to be killing it in his first season, I think he can be a really great one in this sport. He’s 17 in August. This is so young. Yeah, and we get on well, the families and he’s coaching our six-year-old. He’s not taking any advice from me, so with Kimi at least to have some access to describe apexes and exits of corners.
Q: Do you see Formula 2 as a two-year programme for him?
TW: I think it depends on how it goes. It’s new cars, which is an advantage and it all depends on how quick you can be but there’s some tough competitors that get to go into the second season – Fred has one – that are highly rated and I think whether it’s a season or two, he needs to demonstrate that he’s ready for a seat in F1. And there’s another step in between; we’ve got to concentrate on F2, nothing else.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) Question to all four of you: this isn’t the first time that something unexpected has gone wrong: think about Qatar and the kerbs there. Okay, the track layout wasn’t changed, but it was all resurfaced. Pretty difficult shutting down a city or with the current generation of F1 cars producing forces that other categories won’t but might it be a good idea to have a test event for new facilities and things?
TW: Like I said before, unemotionally, drain covers, it’s a problem that we’ve known before. It happens on new tracks. This one is a bit freakish because the concrete broke out and they’re going to fix it and then from then on, I think it’s going to be improved. And like Fred said, the marshals need to learn the track and we need to see where the cars stop, how quickly can you get a car off the track? And that will take a few years to really synchronise it well. But that’s the normal teething problems.