Toto Wolff was present at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix Friday Press Conference and talked about the Racing Point verdict, Hamilton and Bottas’ contracts and more! Here is the transcript of his answers.
Q: We’re celebrating 70 years of Formula 1 this weekend so I’d like to start talking about that. Toto, perhaps we could start with you. What makes Formula 1 so fascinating for you?
Toto WOLFF: There’s many aspects. Formula 1 has grown over these 70 years to a true global sport with technical appeal, sporting appeal and then all the things that Bernie Ecclestone created around it. It is always a pool of content and narrative, there is controversy on track and off track. There is personalities that are competing against each other and it’s almost like, for me, it’s the racing side but also it is a big reality show around it that happens live and all this provides content and I think that’s the integral part of this sport.
Q: (DIETER RENCKEN – RACING LINES) Question for Toto. In the last three or four hours you’ve obviously read the verdict from the stewards that emphatically found Racing Point to be in breach and also found that your team had cooperated with them on the 6th of January this year as well as sharing CAD data at least 10 times. Could you explain how Mercedes got to a point of being so complicitly involved please?
TW: Well, we’re not involved Dieter, and we feel 100 per cent comfortable with our position. We’ve read the rules over and over again. The verdict that came out today is extremely complicated. It comes up with an interpretation that is new. New to all of us. We have provided certain data in 2019 which was totally within the rules. The 6th of January that you refer to has no material effect on any of the action because the whole thing was delivered much earlier and all the CAD drawings and designers were delivered much earlier. And Racing Point and ourselves are still of the opinion that is within the regulations. We are prepared to have a discussion on the philosophy – and this is what Cyril and I have discussed last week – whether we want cars to be very similar to other cars; whether we want the cooperation. I see some benefits. I think we have a team that is competing amongst the front running teams now. This was very much the aim. And on the other side, it provides a great source of income for us as a big team. We are able to monetise some of the technologies that otherwise couldn’t, wouldn’t be monetised, and I think it’s a win-win situation. I also get the opinion – and I respect the opinion – of the other side that cars shouldn’t look like some other cars. Now, none of the regulations prohibits that. This special situation arose because a non-listed part became a listed part, so while it was a non-listed part things were supplied. We can have that legal discussion endlessly – but at the end, to be honest, there is zero worry on our side. And when I say zero, I mean zero, that we were in any breach. Nor do I think that Racing Point was in breach. And I believe that if that would go to the ICA, it would be probably a complex matter, because it’s very technical – but I doubt there would be any outcome.
Cyril, can we get your reaction please, to the outcome of the protest?
Cyril ABITEBOUL: Well, I would agree that it’s a complex matter, it’s a matter that actually features two elements in it: there is a very specific and targeted discussion and protest in relation to one part of the car – brake ducts, front, rear – and in relation to that we are satisfied with the fact that the FIA and the stewards confirmed that some of these parts were in breach of the sporting regulation. It’s the sporting regulation but it really is a technical matter that ends up being placed in the sporting regulation – but it is a technical matter. So, we’re satisfied with that conclusion. I think that the question of sanction is open for debate, and as Toto was saying, for another matter, could be discussed endlessly. We will consider that matter, bearing in mind the advantage that was obviously obtained will keep on going for all the season and it’s a very material advantage. Just to put things in perspective, any teams will be spending 20 per cent of its ATR time, of its aerodynamic time, into developing those parts – so it’s not a small part. The second element that’s part of it, as Toto was mentioning, it’s a wide topic of copying a car. I think, again, in that respect, we need to recognise that what Racing Point has done, based on a car that has such an advantage, against anyone else on the grid, has been a shock in the system, has been a disruption, and I think there has been other disruptions in Formula 1 before, like there has been other disruptions in industries before. We need to see how we deal with it. I think yes, copying has been part of the story of Formula 1 but technology has evolved so much that it’s now possible to do things that were not possible to do before. So, our doctrines, our thinking, or regulatory framework needs to evolve with the technologies that allows you to do some stuff that was not possible before, with a level of accuracy that was not possible before. We’ve been pleased with the statement from Nikolas Tombazis this morning, in parallel to the decision of the stewards about his willingness to tackle that matter and to tackle it strongly, without waiting, for next year – but we need to understand exactly what’s behind that statement. That’s why again, we’ll take a little bit of time before deciding what’s our course of action from that point onward.
Toto, have you got anything to add?
TW: Yeah, I think I agree with Cyril that Racing Point, there performance has somehow disrupted the pecking order. I don’t know how much ATR is really used for brake ducts but I don’t think the brake ducts are the reason that they suddenly compete for the first six positions. I think it’s a splendid engineering team there that has extracted the most from the regulations. I think we can have the debate of ‘do we want this going forward?’ in terms of having copies of whole cars. In our belief there was nothing that was against the regulations because, as Cyril pointed out, the technology exists, and we saw last year on a few occasions, one of our main competitors with the 3D camera – that is quite a thing, you need to have it on your shoulders – scanning our cars. In the garage and outside of the garage. And when you know the technology – it wasn’t you!
Q: Who was it?
TW: I can’t say – but it’s pretty obviously who it was – scanning the whole car. And when you plug that into a computer, it gives you all the shapes. So this technology exists, there is nothing that prohibits that, everybody has spy photographers sitting on the roofs of the opposite building, zooming into the smallest detail on every car. If we don’t want this to happen then we need to close that avenue. I’m also, as Cyril says, happy with Nikolas coming out very strong this morning and saying ‘OK, maybe we need to adapt the rules, maybe we need to somehow prevent this Spy photography that has existed in Formula 1 since God knows when, and yeah, I don’t know how to do it but maybe they ban all photographers from every position where they can take a picture of a car but I have all the trust and confidence in the FIA and Nikolas to come with a regulation that is clear – because until now there wasn’t any.
Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Can I ask your opinion please on a ruling that declares that cars that were designed in non-conformity with the regulations, were run in non-conformity with the regulations, declares that they will continue to be in non-conformity with the regulations but allows that team to continue to use them for the rest of the year?
CA: Frankly I don’t think that I can comment. I am obviously an interested party into that, so my answer would only be biased. It’s a position of the stewards. Obviously we can only refer to previous cases. Not going very far, ourselves we were found in breach of the sporting regulations last year and we’ve been immediately disqualified from the event and had to remove the contentious device. It was a sporting regulation, not a technical regulation so there is a question of consistency. That’s why, as I said, we are reserving our opposition. But, as I was saying previously, it’s a complex matter but we should not lose sight, despite the complexity, despite indeed the copying that is currently not addressed by the regulatory framework, that there is a black and white situation and judgement and decision on the legality of a part. That’s what we’re going to focus on in the next 22 hours we have left now.
Toto, your thoughts.
TW: I’m obviously not an integral part of this protest so I’m not sure I should really comment on the case, speaking for Racing Point. As far as I have read the verdict, I think that because the regulations are tremendously complicated, and there has never been a situation where a non-listed part because a listed part, that the FIA tried to somehow bridge the gap of finding a solution that was acceptable to all parties. Obviously for Racing Point, the decision that they strongly feel that they haven’t been in breach, and to come back to Andrew’s question, the breach, as it has been found out, the possible breach, was that they have used… they haven’t’ designed something – the rear brake ducts – from the beginning and it’s not their proprietary design. The breach has happened and they cannot unlearn what they already know. They have had these brake ducts on the car. They can also not change them. So the consequence would be, ‘do you want to disqualify a team from the whole championship?’ Because there is no way of taking those brake ducts away. As a matter of fact, if they were to design them again themselves, the same product would come out. On the same side, I think they were trying to balance the interest of Renault out, in saying ‘OK, you guys were right to point out to that topic.’ Asked by the FIA, it probably swung slightly towards Renault’s position and therefore the fine. But I think, if it would go to the ICA, because Racing Point or Renault decides to appeal, it will be a very long, very messy argument involving QCs and lawyers that will take a few months with the outcome unknown. The outcome unknown for Renault, the outcome unknown for Racing Point. I think the FIA tried to act sensibly here.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – The Race) I wanted to ask Cyril and Toto to clarify a couple of the comments they’ve made so far. To Cyril, does that mean you and your team are considering whether or not you appeal on the grounds that the sanctions don’t go far enough? And Toto, the comments that you made about not doing anything wrong with the transfer of parts, and obviously the transfer on January 6th not changing anything. The stewards seemed to agree with that – but why was there a transfer in 2020 when obviously the parts had become listed parts?
CA: Yeah I can confirm we are considering whether or not to appeal. It happens that usually we have one hour to do that but in this particular case, given the complexity, we have 24 hours to do that and then 96 hours to confirm that appeal. So again, because it’s complex, we need to balance carefully the interests of the sport also, and the consistency of the sanction. We are looking whether or not we will appeal the sanction – not obviously on the decision.
TW: I think Scott you seem to have read the verdict of the FIA, why the 6th of January is not material, which we completely agree, and that is the reason parts were supplied, in order to possibly fill a gap for testing. And that’s it. I don’t want to further elaborate on that, because the FIA has been very clear on that point.
Q: (Peter Thomas – Car Magazine via email) We’re talking a lot about technical arrangements but what about the Concorde Agreement for next year. How close are you to signing that?
TW: The Concorde Agreement is a complex topic…
Frédéric VASSEUR: Everything is complex!
CA: Another one!
TW: This one is more complex! It obviously involved 10 teams, the FIA and FOM and we respect that everybody has their point of view and the only interest at heart… We from Mercedes made it very clear that we are happy with a more equitable split of the prize fund, the way success is rewarded and possible for everybody we agreed to. We are I would say the biggest victim in terms of prize fund loss in all of that. Ferrari has maintained an advantageous position. For Red Bull it balances out with Toro Rosso (sic). So it’s us that are hurt the most. I feel that Mercedes has contributed to the sport over the last years. We have part from being competitive on track, we have the driver that has clearly the most global appeal and we feel that whilst being in those negotiations we weren’t treated in the way we should have been. Therefore there are a bunch of open topics for us that are legal, commercial and sporting and in our point of view I don’t feel ready to sign a Concorde Agreement.
Q: How far away are you?
TW: That depends on the other side. If you are willing to sit at a table, address the critical topics, discuss them, come to a compromise outcome, then I think it can go pretty fast. But I haven’t seen that approach.
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Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Toto, just on the financial side of Lewis and things. Will he have to take a pay cut?
TW: This is a very direct question, which I don’t want to comment [upon]. Lewis has been a very important part of the team. We recognise his driving ability, his behaviour and culture within the team, we enjoy his global presence, we respect his opinion on the various topics that are close to his heart and if you look at the impact that he has on Formula 1, not only with him driving exceptionally, he was always worth the expectations in terms of salary, which we respect. Now, the world has changed a lot. We face difficult times and all that. And Lewis completely understands that and we will discuss what that means. I don’t want to lay out financial terms here because it’s truly a matter only between Lewis and I and as we have both expressed we will continue to race with each other – best driver and best team – and come to a solution in whatever amount of time.
Q: Lewis said yesterday that he isn’t in a hurry to sign a contract. Are you in a hurry to get it signed?
TW: I am of the same mindset as him, because there is such a fundamental base of trust between us we have… our relationship has evolved from a purely professional relationship to something more important and we dislike the discussions about money between us, because at the end we have the same objectives and this is the only area where we have a different approach… What was your question?
Q: Are you in a hurry?
TW: Ah, no, not at all. You have sat the two French clowns next to me and they keep interrupting and it’s distracting! So, not at all in a hurry. Same feeling as Lewis. We will eventually sit down somewhere, carve it out in a few hours, and go for pizza – like we did last time.
Q: (Luke Smith – Autosport) Another contract question, this time about Valtteri Bottas. Valtteri said in pre-season that he wanted talks to be a lot smoother this year, to try and avoid any outside distractions or unnecessary talk and he seemed much happier yesterday about how talks went. How much happier were you with these talks and do you feel it was a quicker resolution all around?
LW: With Valtteri it’s the same situation as Lewis. We have an absolute alignment. They are very realistic. There is not a manager on the table who tries to optimise beyond a possible breaking point. And Valtteri was always like that. We are both not optimisers to the end to make one party leave the table with a bad feeling, so the discussion about renewing the contract took five minutes.
Q: Toto, why only the one-year extension?
TW: In 2022 the regulations change. We love our current line-up, we respect the two, and we need to be open and flexible and see what happens beyond that. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t got any trust in either Valtteri or Lewis but it’s just important to have the option to look at the movements in the whole driver market.
You can watch the conference below.