Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff attended the United States Grand Prix Friday Press Conference. Here is the full transcript.
Q: Toto, first of all, welcome back. Great to see you back at a race, having missed the last two due to the knee operation. How are you first of all?
Toto WOLFF: All good. Just done ligament replacement. Difficult to walk but it’s OK.
Q: So, your marathon-running days are behind you?
TW: No, on the contrary, just need to wait six months and then I’m running again.
Q: Tell us about the two races you missed. How plugged into what was happening trackside were you?
TW: I was completely plugged in. I have pit-wall or centre console set-up at home. So, part of every briefing or debriefing and the conversations during the race – but obviously you got to let the guys here fly the aeroplane because when you’re remote, I need to almost always. take myself back a little bit. Because you’re distant. You don’t look into the faces, you don’t see what’s going on emotionally, with the people around you. And you feel, in a certain way, detached. So, it’s not something that I enjoy, but it was a necessity.
Q: Emotions were running high, actually at both of the races you missed, in Japan and Qatar. What’s your assessment of those two races?
TW: Well, there were some, let’s say, unpleasant situations that we have talked about. Lots of points that we left on the table, but there is nobody more aware than the drivers. And sometimes you need these moments to recalibrate and recondition and avoid similar situations in the future. But they’re racing drivers: they compete hard. Your first competitor is your teammate, and therefore, I see it with a relatively relaxed stance. And I’m back.
Q: Let’s bring it on to this weekend. You’ve got the new floor. What were the drivers saying in FP1?
TW: The lap time was competitive that Lewis was able to post – but not like that the car is suddenly super-fast. There are certain areas he feels more comfortable. And George, on the other side, wasn’t satisfied with how the car was going for him – but like Mike said, we left the debrief to join you guys here.
Q: Final one from me. This is the 200th race of the turbo-hybrid era, and your team has won, I think, 112 of those races, which is a phenomenal record. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that power unit and how much of a game-changer it’s been?
TW: Did you look at Wikipedia?
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No-one reads that Toto, come on!
TW: Yep, no-one reads that anyway – but it’s good, thank you for giving me the number, 112. I think we had a really good run, thanks to the efforts that were made in Brixworth. Sensational power unit, straight from the get-go. We were very competitive from 2014 onwards, and then, since then, chassis and power units have never let each other down – maybe beside the 2022 season. So far, it’s a good number. It means more than 50 per cent winning – but it’s become more difficult recently. And that’s a challenge we were taking. Let’s see if we can add a few more in the current engine regulations.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) What lessons can the sport learn from the punishment that the drivers took at the last race? Is it time for the FIA to step in and regulate cockpit temperature, placing of electronic boxes and so on? And maybe Mike can talk a bit about how things were done in WEC?
TW: Yeah, I would agree what has been said. That was, for me, the most extreme driver situation in terms of heat soak that I’ve seen so far. And I think there are some hardcore people that would say ‘well, that’s what the job brings’ and to a certain degree, that’s right. You need to be able to train for these extreme situations, but then maybe that one was maybe a step too much and it was unanimous from most of the drivers saying that we can’t do that. And if we can find a solution with the FIA and with the drivers to just cool the cockpit a bit more without drilling big holes into the cockpits, which would then again bring up a situation of what is it actually we need to change and how does it affect the technical regulation? I think this is not something we want to open up but in any case you need to respect the position of the driver and that wasn’t pleasant to look at.
Q: (Jon Noble – Motorsport.com) Toto, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase when the cat’s away, the mice will play. Your absence from the last two races coincided with your drivers getting their elbows out and these unpleasant situations. Do you think there’s a link between you not being there and that happening and has it changed perceptions of you missing races in the future?
TW: No, I don’t think.. we’ve laughed about that too in the team, but I don’t think it had an effect. I think we are racing more in the front now. I think we have a sniff, you know, how it is looking like to have no car in front of you with the McLarens and with Max there. In any case, we’ll never find out, I’m back.
Q: (Alex Kalinauckas – Autosport) The same question to Toto and Mike, please. In a couple of weeks F1 is arriving in Las Vegas for a very eagerly anticipated race. I just wondered, could you please talk us through you and your team’s preparations for that event? And also, given it’s a new race in that city – a famously lively city – are you having to put any special measures in place? Are you banning any team staff from the casinos or the music or anything like that?
TW: [To Mike Krack] You want me to get it wrong first? I think it’s very exciting to go there. It’s a Mount Everest to climb, I think, for Liberty and organising that you’ve got to take your hat off, not only doing it first time, but also in a city that is complex to navigate, I guess. But we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be midnight race. We don’t know what the temperature is going to bring. But in any case, it will be entertaining. And from a marketing side, we’re just blowing everything out of the park that we’ve previously done. We have a big building that we call Las Vegas club where we’re going to host over multiple levels, hopefully Las Vegas-worthy entertainment for our guests. And very much looking forward to it. We don’t know how we’re going to travel from A to B, from hotel to the track, but I’m sure we’ll we’re going to find solutions there. But I’m very excited. I’ve never been to Vegas. So we’re going to keep everybody out of the casinos. I don’t play. So I’m going to make sure that nobody plays!
Q: (Graham Harris – Motorsport Monday) A question for all. Zak mentioned future Grands Prix in South Africa and many, many other countries are clamouring for races. We are at 24 races next year, with the potential of going to 25 according to the Concorde Agreement, but is 25 really practical? And have you thought about possibly alternating races between some of the circuits – one year, one circuit, one year the next?
TW: Yeah, I think like Guenther said, I agree. Twenty-four is already is already a lot. I guess if we can another good venue that is accretive to the calendar, for sure, we’ll find a way of accommodating it. We, as a team, we’ve already started to run shifts. Many people don’t do all races anymore. But obviously you have the race engineers that are dedicated to a car and the drivers that you can’t really swap a lot. So whether it is 24 or 25, it wouldn’t make a big difference. But we’ve got to accommodate them on the continents, like Guenther said. Sustainability is a key topic. And I think FOM that is deciding about those things is doing a good job in evaluating.
Q: (Edd Straw – The Race) The FIA has raised the ceiling for fines for competitors in Formula 1 up to 1 million. Are you all happy with that? Any concerns that could lead to a dramatic increase in the level of fines and has the FIA made all of this clear, their reasoning for doing that?
TW: Yeah, I think that there needs to be some deterrent for grave infringements of the regulations. But none of that was on the radar of anyone, that it would be coming. I think a million, we need to do a reality check with real life, whether that is an adequate fine or not. I don’t think we’ve ever fined a driver 250. So raising the ceiling is something that one needs to understand where it comes from. And I don’t think we want to portray Formula 1 out there in a world where it’s tough enough to give drivers fines of a million, I think half of the grid wouldn’t be able to pay them. And I don’t think it’s adequate considering… I don’t think we should be playing around with those numbers that seem very surreal for people that are watching us.
Q: Grassroots motor sport development is where those fines go.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – Associated Press) More on Andretti, sorry. I spoke with him this morning and one of the things he said was that his support from Mohammed and FIA is so good that he really has started to feel that the pushback is personal. And I know you guys have no say in it, but he said that that at least half of the team’s, it is personal and they’ve made it political with FOM. Does anyone have a personal grudge against Michael Andretti?
TW: I don’t know him! I don’t know him. I think that his father has a fantastic track record. I mean, he’s one of the great names of the sport. I think Andretti, as a racing team, has been doing well in the United States. For sure it’s that and they’ve won the Formula E Championship. But there’s no grudge. If you haven’t really met someone, you can’t have a personal grudge.