Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner attended the Qatar Grand Prix Friday Press Conference. Here is the transcript.
Q: We’ve just had our first laps of this Losail circuit, so gentlemen, first of all, what have your drivers been saying about the track? Toto, can we start with you please?
Toto WOLFF: First of all, it’s great to be on a new track. It makes it interesting and you’ve seen the track ramp-up was quite high, so it’s very difficult to really compare times. Also, some corners were taken pretty wide. I don’t know if that makes a difference. Lewis was not entirely happy with the car this morning. Valtteri, more so, but the conditions are probably not representative of what we’re going to be seeing in qualifying and the race, which happens in the night. So, I guess it’s learning the track, understanding the set-up direction, where it could go to – but it’s not yet representative.
Christian HORNER: Yeah, interesting track. Both drivers quite enjoyed it. Checo couldn’t remember coming here until we showed him some pictures, actually won a race here 11 or 12 years ago. But I think it’s a challenge. I think on low fuel it’s going to be exciting for the drivers. I think that it’s obviously designed primarily for motorbikes, which is why the kerbs are so low. I think track limits you could see becoming a bit of a nightmare for race control but I’m sure they were using that first session to look at where’s the boundary line? But early days. I think it will ramp-up quite quickly.
Q: Let’s throw it back to last weekend now. We had a fantastic Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. And the intensity hasn’t let-up in the days since. Toto, starting with you, you’ve chosen to request a right to review to the incident on lap 48. Can I ask why?
TW: Well, the intensity is high. It’s normal. There is two drivers, two teams fighting for a world championship. It’s close, it’s swinging one direction and then the other. Red Bull had a fantastic weekend in Mexico and then we were able to strike back the following weekend – but it’s the tiniest of margins that could make a difference at the end. Also that has gone both ways. Max has lost points with crashes, that he wasn’t entirely responsible for and on the other side we lost some points when it was about, for example, the Spa race, which shouldn’t have been as it was. So, you fight every single point and we still feel the incident… so we don’t expect to gain anything, to be honest, from the right to review but it’s more about the principal and the philosophy because if it stays that way it means overtaking from the outside is pretty much not possible anymore because the inside controls the corner completely. Now that is anyway the case but as it was before, when a car is next to you, you need to leave a car width. That’s not the case. We just want to take it to the end, have a judgement on that and then adapt, if necessary, for the last few races. And you can see some of the drivers have actually expressed that same opinion. So that’s why we’re making the stewards have another look on it.
Q: Thank you. Christian, what was your reaction to Mercedes’ request for a review?
CH: I wasn’t really that surprised. I think, just referring to Toto’s comments there about overtaking on the outside isn’t possible. I think Max demonstrated clearly it is in Mexico, into the first turn. I think this right to review, we’ve been through it, at Silverstone, where we felt that there were strong circumstances to look at and the consequences of an incident like that were obviously serious with the retirement, destruction of the car and the loss of an engine, and so on. With this one, it feels a little bit spurious because the key questions to ask yourself, and the key fundamentals are: is it new? Potentially. Is it relevant? One could potentially argue that as well. Is it significant? Absolutely not. I think there are enough camera angles for the stewards to make their decisions. I think we’ve seen numerous incidents, both in the Sprint race and during the grand prix, indeed on the first lap of the grand prix, with Valtteri taking an almost identical line, and so I would be surprised, I would be disappointed if it were to go to another hearing but it’s just frustrating it’s taking this long. I mean, the discussion was yesterday. Not quite sure why it’s taking… it would be nice to have it cleared-up, obviously before we go into the next session.
Q: Toto, do you think the new evidence is significant?
TW: You know for me, the question is less a legal one. It is enough evidence or not to go to a review? I think it is – but it’s clear that we both may have different viewpoints on that. It’s more the racing consequences that it has, and I have a very strong opinion about that. So it is really important to understand what’s on and what’s not on for the next few races because we don’t want this championship to be decided by a highly controversial situation that may end up in the stewards’ room again and with lots of polarisation afterwards.
Q: You did say last weekend Toto, that you didn’t want to win the championship off-track.
TW: Well, that’s the main aim. We don’t want to end-up, after Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi wherever it may end in one or the other direction and it going to the stewards’ room, or to the International Court of Appeal because one of the teams feels it wasn’t treated rightly, so that’s why now is the time for this for this very championship to discuss the rules.
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Q: (Julien Billiotte – AutoHebdo) A question to both gentlemen please. Is there any concern that investigating a grand prix several days after the event could actually open a can of worms and set a dangerous precedent for Formula 1 whereby you have all the teams challenging the results all the time?
Christian, can we start with you please?
CH: Well, I think that’s the danger for the FIA with this. That if they do go down this route than every single incident from now on will be questioned. They’ll be evidence from iPhones or spectators’ phones. There’ll always be something that can be deemed as new or relevant or significant and I think that the stewards made their call. It wasn’t even referred to on their listing after the event. It was a non-issue. It was two drivers racing hard, both in truth went in deep, went in late. Both went off the circuit and we saw many incidents at Turn 4 throughout that weekend in both the race and on Saturday. Then, of course, if you wind it back, you know you get incidents like Istanbul, you get to incidents like at Monza. Where do you draw that line? So, yeah, the competitors are going to push every angle that they can but I really don’t see the relevance of it and I think it does set a dangerous precedent if this incidence, on this occasion is reopened.
Thank you. Toto?
TW: I think indeed it’s a danger. Nobody wants to have feeds from social media that’s coming in and then you suddenly have new evidence, rightly or wrongly, so we need to clean that up. Hopefully in the regulations, with the consent of everybody that, first of all, the stewards need to have access to all relevant channels. I think in that case the stewards didn’t have access to the onboard, which is an important tool to judge. I think we’ve had instances in the past, like Red Bull on the Red Bull Ring where Lewis didn’t see a yellow flag but on the video you could see he did – or he could have seen it, and it was penalised. And I think in that case, those informations weren’t available to the stewards, and that’s why it’s relevant and we should make sure they have access quickly to all these relevant channels. But I agree: we don’t want to drag it for a week or two. That’s not the right thing.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) This is for you Christian, but Toto I’d like a comment from you afterwards. Christian, in the incident at Copse during the British Grand Prix, the driver on the inside ran a bit wide, the driver on the outside didn’t give room and you called that move from the driver on the inside “reckless” and “amateurish”. In Brazil, the driver on the inside ran a bit wide and the only reason they didn’t collide, you could argue, is that the driver on the outside did give room, but you called that “hard, fair racing”. Could explain the apparent contradiction please?
CH: Well, I don’t think it is a contradiction as it’s two different corners, two different circumstances and two different car positionings, and I think Silverstone, you’ve got a gravel trap and a wall and you know the overspeed that was at Silverstone is incomparable with what it was at Interlagos., You could see at Interlagos that both drivers braked late. They have arguably outbraked each other but at no point was Lewis in a position to turn into the corner as Max was at Silverstone and of course the difference at Silverstone was that we had a driver end up in hospital. We had a car destroyed, we had an engine destroyed and a driver eliminated from the race. This was a racing incident. Lewis won the grand prix. He was the quicker driver in the quicker car on the day and you know there was no consequence and I think the two incidents you cannot compare, because then we can go back to Monza, numerous other incidents and you have to take each one in isolation. Different circumstances, different corners, different conditions, different layouts, different surfaces, different kerbs, different run-offs, they are incomparable.
TW: The outcome from Silverstone was much more severe and nobody liked the pictures, but the philosophical question remains the same. If the outside drive doesn’t cede room then they collide and they would have collided in Turn 4 in Interlagos if Lewis hadn’t have opened up and run even wider, so I think the regulation that can be applied is the same.
Q: (Jon McEvoy – Daily Mail) Do you each believe that you are running legal engines, legal rear wings and any other elements as well? How would you describe relations at the moment between Red Bull and Mercedes? Would you say there is still mutual respect as you fight these last few rounds?
TW: I open a diplomatic speech. I think that nobody would show up at the track with an illegal engine or an illegal rear wing. The world is too transparent for that and you would be mad if you take decisions in a team with such a visibility that are illegals – 100%. As far as the punches between the teams, there are many great people working in Red Bull and obviously many great people working in Mercedes and it’s a hell of a fight. There is a respect for the capability that Red Bull has, definitely. And it’s clear that this is tough. It’s the World Championship of the highest category in motor racing and what started as Olympic boxing went to pro boxing and is now MMA, but that’s OK. We are in the ring there trying to do the best job possible, elbows are allowed now because the rules say so and gloves are off and nothing else is to be expected.
CH: There is no relationship. There is a competition and I think it was interesting to hear Toto’s views after the sprint race last week and I think that on his team radio. Look, we are going to push to the maximum. We worked hard to get into this position. It’s the first time they have been challenged. It’s interesting to see how people react when they are under pressure, when they are challenged. It’s by far the most intense, political title fight we’ve been involved in in our time in the sport. Does our car comply with the rules? Absolutely. Do we have concerns about the gains in straight line speed we have seen since Budapest, but which have been exponential in the last couple of races? Absolutely. Do we expect the FIA, as the scrutineer and the policeman of the sport, to ensure that all the cars are compliant? The rules are a complex set of regulations so you know we rely very, very heavily on the FIA to ensure that it’s absolutely scrupulously fair, because what we absolutely want going into these last three races is a fair fight. Whoever comes out at the end of this on top, it shouldn’t be in the stewards room or in a court of appeal, it needs to be done on track. We just want to ensure that going into these last three races that these cars are being scrupulously policed and are in full compliance, because there is too much at stake. You’ve got two teams and two drivers that are fighting for the biggest prize in sport and the stakes are incredibly high and you want to make sure the playing field is level.
Q: Christian you say there is no relationship, but is there respect?
CH: I think relationship and respect are two different things. Of course there is respect for everything that Mercedes have done and everything that Lewis Hamilton has done, but I don’t need to go to dinner with Toto. I don’t need to kiss his arse, or anything like that. There are a few other team principals that might but from my perspective it’s a competition and I think it’s great that we’re in this position, that we’re fighting. We’re fighting for the World Championship, we’re fighting for the Constructors’ World Championship and it’s the first time in seven year they have been challenged, so that intensifies it and I think the sport is a big winner out of this and I just hope that we have a hard and fair fight between now and the end of the season.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) A question for both of you, picking up on what you said, Christian, about this being the most intense political fight you’ve had. Between both of you, do you feel that at points this season, between Mercedes and Red Bull, that the political fighting has gone too far, has it crossed a line? Also is there part of both of you that actually enjoys this kind of political warfare as well and trying to get one up on each other?
CH: Formula 1 is a competition. It is the most competitive sport, arguably, in the world. It’s the most technical sport in the world. There is a huge amount at stake. The competitors are operating at an unbelievable level and you know on track, off track it’s been an extremely intense season, but I think we have absolutely…. This is what we have worked for. We have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes, it’s not just what you see at the circuit, that’s only 10% of who our team is. It’s what goes on behind the scenes in the factory, the late nights, the difficulties through all the remote working that we have had, the circumstances of the last 12 months. As a team we have fought incredibly hard to get into this position. Max having won nine grands prix this year and the team having won 10 grands prix, is a position that we have strived for during the difficult years and we have never given up. We’ve kept fighting, we’ve kept pushing, we’ve kept believing and Mercedes, make no bones about it, have set the bar incredibly high but it’s great that we are in this position, we’re enjoying being in this position and rest assured we will give it everything that we have between now and the end of the year.
TW: Yeah, I think, what is there to add. The fight happens on all levels – political, sporting, technical. That’s clear. I think that whoever wins this championship at the end of the year, Driver and Constructors, merits the win, because it was on a very high level.
Q: (Ian Parkes – New York Times) Question to both of you, obviously we’re listening to the comments here in the press conference and we have heard numerous comments as well during the course of the season directed towards one another. Where does this dislike of each other stem from? What’s been the cause of it? And do you feel there will always be this undercurrent of ill feeling towards one another or is there any hope of any reconciliation between the pair of you. And a direct question to you, Christian, you talked about there being a fair fight, that the FIA police things correctly. Are we going to see therefore any kind of protest from yourselves towards Mercedes’ straight line pace as you’ve referred to and obviously pointedly there towards the rear wing?
TW: I think the competition is just too high. You cannot expect that you are going to dinner with your rival or with a rival team or with your enemy in that sporting competition, irrespective of the personalities and the characters, nothing else. Everything else would be not normal and that’s as simple as it is. No negative emotion or positive emotion. The emotions are pretty neutral.
CH: Look, Toto and I are very different characters and you know we operate in different ways and I think that…. Am I going to be spending Christmas with Toto? Probably not, unless you’re in panto this year, I might take the kids.
CH: I think that from my perspective it’s a tough competition and that’s Formula 1. I don’t think… you don’t have to be best mates with your opponents. How can you be? I think that would be dishonest in many respects, to fake a façade when you are competing against each other. What was the second part of the question?
TW: Whether you are protesting us?
CH: Aren’t you protesting us at the moment? Would I protest? Absolutely. If we believe that the car is not in compliance we will protest, because the straight line speeds we have seen in Mexico and Brazil… I think everybody could see in Brazil it was not a normal situation. Yes, a new engine comes, we know with Mercedes, comes with increased performance but when you have a 27 kilometre an hour closing speed and you see ‘witness’ marks on rear wing endplates that have been marking up from wings that have been flexing, it’s very clear to us what has been going on. So, of course that’s why I refer it’s down to the FIA but if we feel that to make sure the cars are in compliance, if they’re not you protest if you believe a competitor isn’t complying with the rules.
Q: The decision has just dropped and the news from the steward is that they deny the competitor’s decision for a review, under Article 14 of the ISC? Can we get your reaction to that, please?
TW: Completely expected. I think we wanted to trigger a discussion around it, because probably it will be a theme in the next few races and I think that objective is achieved. We didn’t really think it would go any further.
CH: I think it’s obviously the right decision because it would open Pandora’s box regarding a whole bunch of other incidents that happened at that race. I think the most important thing now is to focus on this grand prix. It’s great to be here in Qatar. I think it’s going to be a good circuit and we want a good clean fair fight, not just here but in Jeddah and in Abu Dhabi.
Q: (Ben Hunt – The Sun) A couple of questions for Toto. You said you would be mad to turn up with an illegal wing or engine. The only thing is you did have a wing that failed in Brazil. You mentioned that the FIA can cut it into lots of pieces if they wanted. I just wondered whether you’d had it back? Is there any concern that perhaps you could face some penalties yourselves as a result of their investigation into that wing. A second question: we saw quite a strange reaction from you, passionate somewhat, perhaps. Are you struggling with the pressure of this title fight? And if not, how are you managing to cope?
TW: I start with the second part: I don’t feel pressure. I think I’ve felt pressure in my life at various other points that is ridiculous compared to what I had in my personal life, number one. I’m very passionate about it and I protect my tribe and my driver and when things are going against me you will see the emotions. You need to be authentic about it. As for the rear wing. Yeah, we got the rear wing back and, as we thought, it was broken. It broke in qualifying. We didn’t pass the 85mm slot gap test on the far right side. We passed it on the left and the middle, but not on the middle by a fraction of a millimetre and that’s fine. We weren’t allowed to inspect it, nor to make the argument that the part is being broken and consequently we found out that two screws became undone in qualifying and that caused that right side to be irregular and you know probably it was even detrimental to the lap time but it is what it is. It was reported to the stewards and that was very different to how these things were handled in the past where you would be able to patch up things that got broken during parc fermé but we’ve moved on. It’s a race gone. We were obviously able to turn it around. I wish that Lewis had been able to take more points from the Sprint Qualifying, but that is the past. I think now the rules are in a way reset and we’re going to do the best out of it for the current grand prix and the next ones to come.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) Just to go back to the topic of the Mercedes rear wing. Christian you talked about if you do feel that it is illegal you will protest it. I wondered how close you are to determining that situation and Toto, if you have anything to say about the legality of the car?
CH: We will follow the situation and it will depend really on what happens this weekend – so what we see and the analysis that we have conducted, so it really depends on what we see. It doesn’t just apply to here because I think in many respects it’s even more pertinent to the two circuits that are coming up. But as a competitor, I’m sure Mercedes, we know, have paid a huge amount of attention to our car this season, and we are doing the same. It’s high stakes and there is an awful lot to play for and we just want to make sure it is an equal playing field.
TW: Yeah, I’ve always said that is how you fight. You are trying to avoid that a competitor has an advantage. If you’re led by scepticism because someone told you something and you expect that to be the root cause, you should go for it. We’ve said that I think we have been controlled 14 times on this particular wing. The FIA has all the drawings about it. There is no such thing as Red Bull expects there to be. So we are happy to send it, cut it, I can send you one to Milton Keynes.
CH: So, how do you explain the score marks on the rear wing endplate?
TW: I think it is within what is allowed and therefore that is OK.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport.com) Toto, the decision says, like Christian said before, that the new evidence was relevant but not significant. Can you first of all confirm that the evidence that you submitted is basically just a video or was there anything else and what about this onboard video that for you that made it significant enough to amend the decision of Brazil?
TW: I think we made a little dossier without investing too much time, particularly not of the engineers who are involved in the performance of the car. It was premeditated where that would go, but still we wanted to make the case, also to make it public and I think what we have seen on the video is clear to anybody who has ever raced a car. Obviously far away from any of the levels that any driver in Formula 1 driver can do but that corner was not meant to be the corner where he stayed on track. He didn’t mean to stay on track. That’s my personal interpretation but I shouldn’t be judging on anybody’s driving because if I could I should sit in a car and not sit here on a chair and comment.