Toto Wolff was present at the Eifel Grand Prix Friday Press Conference and talked about Mercedes’ COVID-19 positives, Lewis Hamilton’ penalty, Honda leaving F1 and more! Here is the transcript.
Q: Let’s get straight to the biggest story of the week, which is the news that Honda are going to be pulling out of Formula 1 at the end of next year. Please can we start by getting each of your reactions to the news.
Toto WOLFF: Yeah, I’ve a slightly different view. I think it’s a shame that Honda has decided against Formula 1. I believe it’s always a ratio of risk versus return. At the end of the day each of us needs to provide an ROI – Return on Investment – that makes sense. So, whatever capital you deploy for the investment in Formula 1 needs to guarantee or needs to return sensible marketing value and, if that is not the case, I can understand that somebody says ‘we’ve tried it and it didn’t function’. Unfortunately this sport is about, in my belief, not only about investment but also that all the investment doesn’t buy you success because it’s a long-term commitment that you need to provide. We have seen it with Mercedes: we had a couple of really painful years and managed to turn it around. In the past, OEMs came and left, many of them, including Honda, BMW, Toyota and many more and yeah, that’s unfortunate. I think it needs… Formula 1 needs a stable commitment from all of us and needs to have the buy-in from the board, saying ‘OK, we launch ourselves into this, it might be difficult, we’re setting our expectations low but at a certain time we will turn this around.’ But, at the end, we need to accept it. It’s certainly not great for us to lose an engine manufacturer It’s a problem for Red Bull so yeah, I’ll be missing those guys. They were a good part of the paddock.
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Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) It’s a question to all three please. One of the key differences between Honda and the respective manufacturers that you represent is that they didn’t have a works team underpinning the engine project at the same time. So, do you think there is any value in Formula 1 just being an engine supplier at the moment – and what would you like to see done to improve the value of being an engine supplier, even in the form of a spending cap for engine manufacturers or possibly prize money for the engine manufacturers?
TW: We have been on both sides. We have had a really successful spell as an engine supplier to McLaren but made the decision at the end of 2009 to buy a team because we saw more marketing value, better return on investment by owning a team – so we’ve seen those both sides. How the business case went for power unit manufacturers. It’s certainly not how it should continue in the future. When I joined Formula 1 with Williams in 2009 I remember the power units that they utilised, they cost US$20million and more. Today we have an obligation to supply at the price that is much below that. With the hybrid introduction, like Mattia said, it was an engineering exercise: what kind of engine can we actually develop? And we didn’t realise that we would have a fantastic engine with, today, more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency that doesn’t exist in any other sport. We started to message around it in 2014 with, chief Indian Bernie, that this is really all not good for Formula 1 and the noise is not enough and somehow you can’t sell your product by talking negative about it. So, we’re still lacking the messaging that these engines are fantastic hybrid technology but they’re much to expensive. So we need to introduce a spending cap for power units that’s clear, like we’ve done on the chassis side in order to make it more sustainable and in order to attract other OEMs in the future.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Cyril, I believe you’ve already spoken about this so I’ll address this question to Toto and Mattia – would you be open to supplying Red Bull with an engine supply beyond 2021 when Honda pulls the plug? I know it’s something you’ve both explored and talked about in the past and rejected it but would you be open to doing that in the future?
TW: No. Because… for various reasons… but the main being that we are supplying four teams including us. We are almost in a state that we can’t make power units for all of us so there is no capacity. But I have no doubt that Helmut will have a Plan B, as he said, and probably doesn’t need to rely on any of the current power unit suppliers.
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for all of you. The discussion we’re having now, they sound a lot like the discussion of a few years ago when we made the plan for 2021, which is now 2022 when the power unit was on top of the list to change for the future. Now, nothing changed for the power unit but Honda pulled the plug. Do you think that Formula 1 missed the chance, and we should have had changes earlier than 2026?
TW: I don’t know the specific reasons why Honda left – because there certainly will be many layers that led to this decision and I think return on investment is probably the most important one. Should we have changed the regulations? The problem is that if we would have changed them earlier it would have meant an additional investment for all of us, which wouldn’t have been sustainable, and after a couple of years, three-four years, you’re starting all over again. Where we all came together: Honda, Ferrari, Renault and ourselves was that after 2025 would be the right time. Certainly, a cost cap and some kind of freeze needs to be introduced earlier – bearing in mind that we need the status where all engines are about equal. We don’t want to have a situation where we’re freezing power units and there’s big discrepancies in performance. But going forward, we need to all sit on a table, discuss what is the right technology for the real world; how can we simplify technology in order to spend less and then have a new format that everybody buys into from 2026 onwards.
Q: Thank you. Cyril mentioned COVID there, Toto, coming to you: you have had two positive COVID tests in the team this weekend. Please can you tell us what measures have been put in place to contain the spread of the virus?
TW: Yeah, so we are testing constantly back in Brackley. Everybody tested between Monday and Wednesday and there was not a single positive case. And then when we arrived we did a second test and one person was tested positive and was obviously quarantined and everyday around him that was in the car or worked with him also got quarantined and they had the second test now that is negative. And then we had a second positive test and also everybody who was around him was put in quarantine. We flew six people in from the UK; they were all tested. It’s certainly not a good situation because every person is very important but I guess this is something that is going to follow us for quite a while.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport.com) – Toto, you said in Russia that the penalty for Lewis was a bit too harsh in your view, because actually there was no clear cut regulation. As you said it was behind pit exit lights but what is behind. I think the FIA called it common sense. Do you understand why the FIA didn’t penalise Charles in Belgium for a similar infringement, although admittedly Charles was not as far down the line as Lewis was? And the same question to Mattia, please?
TW: I think as always with these things you must admit that you have a certain bias. There was no clear regulation. It said after the pit exit to the line and after the pit exit lights. Lewis took it quite far but still within what was said in the event notes. I felt additionally that the penalty was too harsh. Putting a reconnaissance lap breach, if it was a breach, into the race. We had speeding before in the pit lane and that wasn’t carried over into the race and then giving two five-second penalties for the same incident where he wasn’t at fault, because we told him he could do that, but he obviously went further than expected. We didn’t see thee first one on telly either. It’s probably too harsh, and this is what I said. At least the points were taken off. I think anyway, penalty points were invented for qualifying and race incidents that were deemed to be dangerous – yellow flag incidents or crashes that could have been avoided. Now we are having points for many infringements that are not safety critical and I think we need to think about that going forward.
Q: And Charles Leclerc’s in Spa?
TW: I saw Charles situation and it was the same – that he was after the position that was indicated in the event notes. He wasn’t that far down the pit exit as was Lewis but nevertheless he was still after the line. We have still some variability between penalties on one side, something that from the pure optics looked much less of an infringement, which was Charles, but nevertheless behind the line and behind the lights, and that was penalised an then on the other side you had a situation where Lewis was further down the line and still in the same position and was awarded two five-second penalties. We need to have a little bit of a more of a balance situation and as I said before two five-second penalties were in my opinion too harsh.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Just going back to Coronavirus. Whose side of the garage does it affect and how heavily do you expect it to impact Mercedes’ weekend here?
TW: Well, every loss of an important member in the garage affects the race but I think we have got it under control by having back up back in Brackley and they came and in that respect I think we should be in control of that situation.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Another question on the coronavirus for Toto. Given that a positive for a driver could swing the championship, if Lewis or Valtteri were to test positive, what extra advice are you giving them on how they behave in between races, what they can do and what they can’t do?
TW: Obviously the drivers are the most restricted of the whole group, of the whole team. Certainly not a great situation for them because you almost need to live like a hermit and that’s what they are doing. They are at home. They are not going out for dinners. They are not meeting any other people. Within the team we do the debriefs via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. They are not sitting with the engineers in the room. They are sitting in their own rooms and we are avoiding as much as possible any personal contact with them. And we try do it as literally stepping into the car and keeping their distance as we belt them in and then drive. Because, as you say, that is really critical for the championship, if you miss a race or two. So, unfortunately for them, they need to live a life that is a bit secluded but we think the decisions we have taken are good and protect them.