Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner attended the final Friday Press Conference of 2021. Here is the full transcript!
Q: Both world titles are up for grabs this weekend and that’s the Constructors’ trophy sitting between you. We can all feel the tension in the paddock, but what’s the mood in your respective garages?
Christian HORNER: I think the mood is one of excitement. Who would have thought coming into this season that we would be here with an outside shot of going for this trophy. But to be tied on points with Lewis, it’s been an amazing journey. It has been an amazing championship. We have won 10 races. The nine Max has won has matched all the previous victories in the previous seasons he has been involved in the sport. I think the way we have fought, the way we have pushed in this campaign, nobody has come close to challenging this team [Mercedes] in the last eight years. Here we are at the final race and we’re in with a shot. A long shot in the Constructors’ and an equal opportunity in the Drivers’, so I think there is a real feeling of excitement. I think there is a real feeling of enjoyment. It’s been intense, it’s been frustrating on occasions. You know, we have pushed the limits, we have pushed each other and we have pushed our competitors and here we are at the final race for the showdown, and it almost feels a bit like Squid Game that we’ve finished up here with everybody on equal points. But I think it is going to make compelling viewing on Sunday. Just as a team we are incredibly proud of what we have done this year. We are proud of the way we have raced. And we are particularly proud of Max. As a 24-year-old young man to drive under scrutiny, the pressure, the intensity that he has had has been quite simply outstanding. To go up against a 36-year-old seven-time world champion, the mental strength that he has demonstrated this in a sport, in a world where we see the scrutiny that there is has been outstanding and we are incredibly proud of everything he has done and that he is standing here at this race tied with statistically the best driver of all time, so it’s been an amazing journey and everybody in our team is certainly embracing this challenge, embracing this fight and win or lose or Sunday it’s been an amazing journey.
Toto WOLFF: Yeah, also for us it’s exciting because both teams had their fair share of luck and bad luck and from where we sit is that team and driver both merit to win. The journey so far, like Christian said, very happy at times, exuberant, and very frustrating in different moments and to find each other here competing with equal points in the Drivers’ Championship is not only good for the spectators but also for us. It has pushed us to new limits. They have done a formidable job this year and that’s why it’s all in for this Sunday and whoever wins deserves to win.
Q: Staying with you Toto, the gap in the Constructors’ table is now 28 points. How confident are you of picking up that trophy on your left next week?
TW: Statistically that is a very strong advantage we have, but you can see how quickly it goes. We were just five points ahead and then Checo was involved in that crash and scored no points and suddenly it swings massively. So there still can be events on Sunday when that could swing in the other direction. I just hope we are all in for this fight, the four drivers and that we can maintain the gap and even increase it, because that would mean maybe that if it’s down to Lewis that we have won the championship.
Q: Christian can we get your thoughts on the challenge ahead with regard to the Constructors’ Championship?
CH: The Constructors’ is a long shot. I think the DNF for Sergio last week was brutal for that championship. Something would have to go significantly wrong for Mercedes not to pick up that championship but you know, it’s the last race. There’s so much at stake and anything can happen. Anything can happen. You can never give up. We learned that back in 2010 when we came here fighting for our first world championship, that Sebastian Vettel came here with an outside chance and came away with the Drivers’ trophy. It just demonstrates that if you never give up, you keep pushing, anything can happen.
Q: Christian, if the Constructors’ title seems a tall order, you’re still technically in the lead of the Drivers’ on countback. What have you been saying to Max?
CH: We’ve obviously talked about the weekend and the most important thing is for him to enjoy this weekend. For him to give his best, to drive exactly as he has in the previous 21 races, to attack the weekend in the way that he has, that has given him those nine victories, that has taken him to this point of being tied on points with Lewis. I think he has to enjoy it. I think that he has driven phenomenally well. I think since the summer break we haven’t had the strongest car and I think it is Max who has kept us in this championship. It’s the way he has extracted performances. You only have to think of the first turn in Mexico, the Austin Grand Prix as two recent examples of where he has driven out of his skin to keep us in this fight. I think the biggest thing for him to just go for it, just enjoy it. Obviously for us the target is that we have to beat Lewis. And to beat Lewis we have to win the race, because on normal statistics I can’t see anybody else being in that position, so the only chance we have to win this championship is to beat Lewis on the track. We want to do that as we have done on at least nine previous occasions with Max so far this year.
Q: Toto, same question to you really, what have you been saying to Lewis?
TW: I think there was an overall discussion on where we are as a team and after Brazil the easiness that we have rediscovered in the team and we all agreed that this is why we are here: close competition, fierce fighting for bot championships. And Lewis is one of the protagonists in the team to install and instil this kind of mindset. I see him and Valtteri in a way as a kind of pillar, playing their role, concentrating on their job, not being distracted by any noise and that’s why he is a leader with the great support of everybody and of course Valtteri.
Q: It has been a totally enthralling and occasionally explosive season and you two have had your moments when emotions have run high. What do you have to say to each other now that is down to the wire?
TW: Good luck, and may the best man and the best team win.
CH: Exactly. Exactly that. It’s been an intense competition. It’s been intense between the two of us. It will be intense next year and the year after. But we have got two great teams. We are separated about 15 miles back in the UK and I think that the commitment that has gone in has been phenomenal. I can’t speak for Toto’s team but our team has been outstanding this year, through the whole pandemic, through all the challenges, the triple-headers, everything that we have had thrown at us, they have been outstanding. So, yeah, if you would slow down a bit, it would certainly help!
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Jerome Pugmire – AP) Toto, how does this compare to the last race in 2016 in terms of tension, because obviously the tension was very high then between Nico and Lewis. How does that compare, for you, and also do you sense that Lewis is more tense now or less tense than in 2016 for the last race?
TW: Your place looks pretty cold! It’s very different. I would say that the intensity of the situation was maybe more in 2016 because if you have a rivalry and a fight within the team, trying to manage the two sides of the garage and obviously not being one-sided but keeping everything transparent was very, very difficult. Also, for me, I was still very much in my junior year, so I don’t want to go back to the difficulties of that relationship or that situation there. There are many things I would do differently today and this one is just a fierce fight between teams and drivers that have done a really great job, but sometimes in the races the two or three drivers in the lead we were 45 seconds up the road, like being almost the whole field and this shouldn’t sound arrogant in any way but it shows the push all of us have done in order to win this. It’s probably a level that certainly in my years at Mercedes is unprecedented.
Q: (Abhishek Takle – Midday) To both, you have obviously shaken hands now but during the season the war of words between the two of you was very barbed and at times even ugly. Why do you think that? Do you think somewhere a little bit of respect went out of it in the intensity of the situation?
CH: I think we are competing for two of the biggest trophies in sport and of course the competition is intense. I think as characters we are obviously quite different but we share the same intensity, the same competitiveness. I will defend my team, I will defend my driver, both drivers, to the hilt. That’s what you do. That’s who you represent. That’s who you look to protect and you know yes, there has been competition on track, off track, and it has been pushing the boundaries. Tot has done the same from his side and yeah, it has got heated and I think that’s sport. It would be for me very artificial to sit here or throughout the season and be all smiles with your biggest competitor. For me, I can’t do that, because that wouldn’t be being true or being honest. So, of course emotions boil over. We are in a competitive sport. That’s Formula 1. It shows the intensity of the competition, the intensity between the teams. It’s given you guys something to write about. I think it has just been honest more than anything and for me it would be totally fake for me to sit here and say how much we love each other and that we are going to go on holiday after this weekend. Because, I’m not going on holiday with you after this weekend by the way!
TW: I don’t know if it would be so much fun. I would agree with Christian. I think there is mutual respect for the job that the other team has done. They wouldn’t be where they are, competing for these championships all along, but it is just too intense. I stand for the team and the interests of the team and that can be fierce at times because it’s not only the derivers battling on track. It’s a fight for an advantage in the regulations and obviously we have also certain bias that comes from different perspectives and different perceptions. I can understand that rationally but if things go against the team or against the two drivers I can get quite emotional in the moment and Christian has his own way of dealing with it. As he said, very different personalities. But it is just the fight for this trophy, one of the most important prizes in sport. It’s a world championship and that’s why you cannot expect a lot of schmoozing between drivers, team principals and all the teams.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) To both: what did you make of Michael Masi’s explicit reminder that a points deduction can be enforced in the most extreme circumstances? And I know that option is there all the time but do you think it would be right to apply that if someone causes a collision that wins them the title when that hasn’t been applied in other instances this season?
TW: I think that with all controversies that we had in the last few races and again, this is probably a matter of perception, different perceptions from different camps, it is a very good that Michael and the FIA have come out with a reminder of what the ISC stands for and I think coming out is maybe a good deterrent for everyone, just to keep to the racing clean, what is on and what is not on, and simply not only the real race result will matter for the championship but also the driving standards.
CH: It’s one of 22 races. What’s the difference between this race, for example, and Silverstone or Hungary? There has to be consistency, there has to be a consistency of stewarding, or penalties and I think that’s the thing that drives people more mad than anything else, is when there is perceived to be an inconsistency, so that piece of the sporting code that’s been highlighted in the notes, that’s always been there, that’s not something that’s been reintroduced for this weekend. Nobody wants to see this championship end up in front of the stewards or in a gravel trap. We want to see these two titans of drivers, who have gone wheel-to-wheel so often this year go at it again this weekend, that’s what, as a team we want, as a driver Max wants. There needs to be consistency and so I can see why Toto and Lewis, with the disadvantage of race wins, would be pushing for that but nobody’s going into this race to say it’s going to end in a crash. There’s been great speculation about it but our focus is on trying to win this on track and do it at the chequered flag.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Toto, Christian said a couple of races ago that this is the most intense political fight he’s been in during his time in F1. Is that an assessment you would agree with compared to your fights against Ferrari and particularly last year as well?
TW: I think there were years with Ferrari that were brutal and this one is intense in so far that it has been going all year and it’s a part of the… Part of Formula 1 has always been that you’re trying to just have been a situation that you deem to be the right one and that you try to not necessarily gain an advantage but in a way balance it in your direction without being totally off the line. I think there are certain boundaries but definitely, that’s part of the FIA Formula One World Championship and they have been great opponents.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines) Toto, much has been made, including by yourself, about the so-called spicy engine. Could you confirm please, that it’s of a specification that’s been available to Valtteri for example, plus all your customer teams? And then what was the rationale behind cancelling the Kingspan deal, please?
TW: All good questions. I think that what we have seen this year is that we had a lot of degradation on our power units, it’s a phenomenon that we only really understood after the summer and it would put us in a situation that the engine would lose reliability and we’ve seen that Valtteri is on his sixth engine and Lewis on his fifth. The drivers not have these problems and take and not have taken penalties, so therefore putting a new engine in Lewis’s car hopefully protects from a reliability standpoint and would mean that it’s a fresh engine and it was new in Brazil. On the Kingspan situation, it’s much simpler than one would expect. Kingspan and ourselves, we sat down, we said it’s probably not the right moment to be in a relationship like that and we both agreed mutually let’s put a stop on it.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) To both of you, it’s actually with a nod towards next year and the new regulations coming in. Obviously you will have had your programmes running in the background but I just wondered whether this intense title fight that you’ve both spoken of has had any kind of detrimental impact on those programmes in particular?
CH: Well, when Ferrari turn up with the fastest car and smash us out of the park at the first race then you’ll have to say that it probably did but I think that we’ve all known that big regulation changes coming for 2022 and we’ve applied our resource accordingly. I’m sure each team has done what they feel is right and it’s put pressure on the organisation, of course, but that’s where I think the team have been outstanding because to keep a development rate on a new set of regulations and keep a focus on this year’s car has taken a monumental effort and the commitment shown by all of the team, throughout the team, has been phenomenal. But we will only see when we come back in a couple of months’ time, with completely new cars, they look different, they’re going to feel different, they’re going to drive differently, you know, who’s got it right, who’s got it wrong and then it all starts again.
TW: Also to add to that is that obviously regulations have been changed, we are all operating under the same financial cap and the concepts are very new and then what was introduced is the aerodynamic regulations, where teams based on their standing in the championship had a little bit more allowance and so it’s pretty much possible that teams who hadn’t competed for the World Championship this year, whether it’s Ferrari, McLaren or Aston Martin or Alpine are capable of coming up with the intelligent concepts based on much more runs than everybody else and just doing it very right, so I think we need to expect much closer fighting for championships and races than we had before and that’s exciting.
Q: (Alan Baldwin – Reuters) Christian, the question is about would have, could have, should have. Every year we have them and I know in racing that doesn’t win any races but Max has lost something in the region of 52 points for contact over the course of the season including I think 18 at Copse. I just wondered if you looked… how much does that play on your mind and what is your biggest ‘what if’ moment of the season?
CH: You can always look back at the ‘what if’ moments and I think if we look back at particularly Silverstone and Budapest they were brutal for this championship. Max would have been sitting here as World Champion had it not been for those incidents which were not and were deemed to not be his fault but you have to look forward, you can’t dwell on ifs, buts and maybes. We’ve kept ourselves in this championship, there’s been a couple of races where things could have gone the other way for him but he’s kept fighting, he’s kept himself in there and here we are, race 22 with a crack at the title and I think that we need to look forwards, not backwards.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A couple of races ago, Christian, you hinted that the team was looking at considering a protest. Can we rule out the chances of a protest on Sunday? And the second question to Toto: could you explain, roughly for us, where you managed to find this increase in speed over these last couple of races, if it wasn’t the spicy engine?
CH: Regarding the question for me, are we going to protest? We have made our points clear a few races ago, to the FIA, about things that we were unhappy with. The FIA have introduced stringent tests and I believe modifications have been made to our competitor’s car. So, we just want a level playing field and I think hopefully we have that, we rely on the FIA to police that. It’s an incredibly complex sport, there’s a huge talent pool of engineering skill that look and interpret these regulations with tremendous ingenuity and that’s part of the appeal of Formula 1 but we rely wholeheartedly on the FIA to make sure these things are policed and adjudicated correctly and I think, hopefully with the tools that they now have, that certainly will be the case.
TW: I think we understood much better how to run the car in terms of aerodynamic configuration, particularly how much rake you give to the car, how you put the aero balance right, how much rear wing you run and then obviously a massive effect from a new engine and you put all of this together with a circuit that suits the car with the right decisions that are being taken by Andrew Shovlin and his team and Loic Serra and these guys. People tend to believe in Formula 1 that there’s one silver bullet but it’s not like this. It’s small things that add up and I think that that’s where we took some good decisions.
Q: (Jenna Fryer – AP) To both of you: Max was… several times yesterday he said he doesn’t not think he’s been treated fairly this year. I assume he means by the stewards. I’m wondering if either of you agree with that?
CH: It’s heating up a bit. I think that on occasions I think he has been treated harshly. I think he has come under scrutiny that we haven’t seen applied consistently with other incidents and he feels aggrieved by that and I think that the problem is for Max is that scrutiny is on him, he has the spotlight positioned on him, he’s running at the front, he’s competing against a seven time World Champion and I think that allegations about his driving, about this driving style, about his driving standards have been… there’s been a narrative that’s been pushed to put pressure on him and I think that he’s driven fantastically well all year. Max drives in a manner that ignites passion, it has brought fans into the sport, it’s brought new fans into the sport this year and we do not want him to change. We want him to drive in exactly the manner that he has that’s put him on a precipice of competing with Lewis for this World Championship and it’s been great to see the new fans coming into the sport this year, the young fans coming in and that, in a large part, is because of what he’s been doing and the way he drives, the way he has taken on the greatest driver of all time, the most winning driver, the biggest champion, and I think that all credit is deserved on that, and of course the mental pressure on a young man with the scrutiny that he’s had has been immense this year and the way he’s conducted himself, the way he’s handled that, it’s right that he feels aggrieved with some of those decisions. And of course, what you want as a driver is consistency, what you want as a team is consistency and I think that’s the most important thing that we request coming into this weekend.
TW: I don’t want to go back to specific incidents nor comment on the driving itself. It’s probably more a matter of perception, your own perception and your own perspectives and that will influence your thinking and how you see the world and that’s OK. I think we’re trying to – as good as we can bearing in mind that we also have that influence in having that most clear view on things and that obviously differs from Red Bull, but that’s OK, you just need to acknowledge that they see it through their glasses and have an opinion and we see it through our glasses and the stewards have a very difficult job to stay neutral and come up with decisions.
CH: You didn’t look very happy in Brazil, hunh?
TW: And last one, and in Jeddah.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC Sport) Has there been a communication as to what action will be taken in a Brazil Turn 4 or Saudi Turn 1 situation?
CH: Brazil Turn 4, Saudi Turn 1. Look, again, it just comes to… you want consistency, consistency of all. What happened in Turn 4, what happened in whatever it was should be applied to this race. You can’t just go and pluck something out of the air and say OK, yep, that’s what will now apply because I think that would make a mockery of the policing of the championship.
TW: Yes, we had our opinions on Brazil but it’s important for this race and for the future to make it clear to the drivers that it’s well understood and we’ve heard comments that it wasn’t well understood and that in the end it’s the drivers who need to judge when starting a race, what’s on and what is not on and I think that in that respect it’s important to reiterate that this weekend.