Today, Italian motorsport.com published an exclusive interview with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, below is the transcription translated from Italian.
At the start, the discussion centres on the pre-season tests, and the strong Ferrari package, with the rapid development of the Mercedes W10 from week 2 of testing and into the season thus far.
Ferrari’s issues are mentioned, but equally Wolff is happy to praise himself for creating a working environment where key staff are not scared to tell about job offers from the competition. Telling is the fact that he highlights that his team is stable and there is no finger pointing with no tolerance for internal politicking, clearly a nod toward the team in red.
Several media outlets have generated multiple stories from this interview, so TJ13 has decided for the sake of context, to publish the full interview below. Enjoy.
Were you really worried about the feedback from the first tests?
“Yes, I was worried, but not so much in test 1. In the first week we saw an impressive Ferrari, their car looked really good, but we knew that in the second test a new package would arrive that would change the face of our car. The concern came when we started the first tests with the updated W10: the values were not related, and so it was for the first two days. Then on the third day things started to go in the right direction, and on the fourth day we matched Ferrari’s times. In the last hours of testing we had for the first time the feeling that there was a reasonable picture, but at the same time it was clear that for us Ferrari was the point of reference”.
In the history of this first part of the season do you think that your growth or the problems from Ferrari were more decisive?
“If we talk about performance I can only judge our work, and that’s what we all do on the team: focus on ourselves. The goal is always the same: to make your car faster. In a perfect world you work, you go on the track and you get results, but that’s not always the case, we’ve seen that we’ve had a number of unforeseen events. In Bahrain Ferrari had the fastest single-seater, and they should have won the race with Leclerc. Charles, before his qualifying accident, was the fastest driver on the track even in Baku, and even in Montreal Sebastian was leading until the penalty. So the balance today could be different, and even if it is not, we know that in all the next races we will have to fight to add points to our ranking”.
How do you manage the risk of satisfaction that can come after winning so much?
“When we think about our performance I often hear myself say…’Come on! You play the championship at home. But we have a precise mentality in this respect, and it’s a continuous search for improvement that comes from the skepticism of being able to do it easily. It’s not a psychological game, it’s basically a respect for the performance of our opponents, with the knowledge that at any time everything can change. Winning eight Grand Prix in a row or five consecutive World Cups doesn’t guarantee you anything, in this sport you always start from scratch. This is the team’s mentality, an approach that has been present over the years and has always allowed us to be honest with ourselves. It’s a relentless pursuit of perfection that doesn’t exist.
When a team wins so much, as in the case of Mercedes, the key figures always receive excellent job offers from the competition. How have you managed to maintain enviable staff stability over many years?
“I know that many of our people, even in key roles, get great offers, and I know why they tell me. I think we’ve been able to create an environment where a professional can appreciate their work. And, I want to tell you, there is no politics in the team, I have zero tolerance for internal politics. We can do it with the outside, negotiating and saying our own at the various tables of the rules, but internally no, I repeat: on this front there is no tolerance. We need total reciprocal transparency; if there is a problem, we work to resolve it, not to point the finger at a culprit. If someone makes a mistake, we try to understand the reasons that determined it and how to avoid it in the future, if necessary also acting on the person who needs support. After all, it’s a simple approach, and this mentality has long worked in our team, in all areas. When I go to the designers’ department, for example, I see many young people who have joined us over the years, working alongside those who have been on the team for the longest time, and the mentality that is passed on is always this, without exception”.
For a long time Mercedes has been recognized as the father of the best power unit in the paddock, and only this year you have convinced everyone that you have the best single-seater. Surprised?
“I think our chassis has been very good for a long time, but it is gratifying to have finally convinced even the experts of the goodness of our project. For many years we have heard that the power unit was the weapon that allowed us to outperform the competition, but I think that was really the case only at the beginning of the hybrid era. We have always worked hard to get a good single-seater on the track, and today I’m glad that this work is finally recognized. It’s an extra satisfaction for those who work in that area”.
What do you think of the meeting that was held in the Austrian paddock to propose the change of tyres currently in use?
“You should have heard the discussions at that meeting. I heard that current tyres are dangerous! And why are they dangerous? Because Gasly can’t heat them up… Pirelli and the FIA have confirmed that there’s nothing wrong with the tyres we’re using, and above all they’re not dangerous. They are more robust than the tyres we used in 2018, so I don’t think it would have made sense to fit last year’s tyres to current single-seaters without testing! It would have been a risk, but there were those who would have preferred to take this risk rather than confirm the current situation. This is no way of thinking considering that Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor racing. We all want the best show possible, but if we want to change we are aiming at least at something better, not at choices that risk worsening the situation”.
Don’t you think that a domain like yours is the real risk for Formula 1?
“No. Obviously my heart is 100% with Mercedes, and my goal is to optimize our performance on the track, without exception. But inside me there is also the motorsport enthusiast, who asks for exciting races and hopes to attend championships with the result in the balance until the last curve of the last race. We need to look at all aspects, and see how we can improve sports and technical regulations in order to get to the tightest Grand Prix. It is a change that must be studied and evaluated in the long run, because each team will focus on its short-term benefits, always happens so. Basically, F1 is based on an absolute meritocracy: the best driver behind the wheel of the best car wins. If you change this concept then you are changing the DNA of Formula 1. So, what I’m saying is: let’s take a look at the regulations that will come into force in 2021 and try to improve what today is not working well, leaving as it is what is good and without affecting the basic values of this sport”.
Cyclically we return to talk about customer cars. How do you feel about this?
“I understand that some of the independent teams are defending the concept of a Formula 1 as a constructors’ championship, and that any single-seater customers can change the current technical balance. I think it’s good to see new structures arrive in Formula 1, as was the case with Haas, is a decision that we made years ago knowing that it would have many advantages. There are commercial benefits on the one hand, and technical benefits on the other. I understand that some people don’t like the idea of a pure customer-car, because it represents a potential threat to those who make their own cars, but on the other hand there are those who benefit from it. I’ve learned that by drawing attention to a project, there can be two different opinions that are 100% consistent from their respective points of view.
When the voice of one of your possible candidatures for the top management of Liberty leaked out, bad moods emerged in several teams. How do you respond?
“Did they really complain? But who made my name? Maybe someone created this story to provoke some controversy…it’s interesting because nothing that’s been said is true. I’ve never been a candidate for that role, and today I’m in a context that satisfies me a lot here at Mercedes. I like my role, I represent one of the best brands in the world, I am granted autonomy to lead the team in the greatest possible interest for the Mercedes group, and the relationships are great. I mean the relationships within the team, the relationship with my friends at Daimler, and all this has been strengthened year after year. And then…I like competition, and here there is competition. Everything you read about the question you asked me does not come from me and does not reflect the real situation.
Among the rumors that go around in the paddock at some point has leaked the rumor of a possible stop of the Mercedes program in Formula 1 at the end of 2020.
“I think it all started because someone has read in the media that the Daimler group is investing a lot in an alternative technology program, with new efficiencies that I also think are correct. The world of road cars is turning towards the electric, so the consequence is that Formula 1 could fall. The truth is that Formula 1 is the biggest commercial showcase for Mercedes-AMG, it represents its biggest advertising platform that generates 3 billion of value globally, and this is not only the value derived from the media return in which it says that Mercedes wins, but from a higher level, that is from how Mercedes is recognized. If we compare today’s perception of the brand with that of 15 years ago, we see that today Mercedes is a sports car, a high-performance car, and I think we have contributed to this image. Obviously the most important thing is to have a range of great road cars, but I think we have made a good contribution, and in summary I think that Formula 1 is held in high regard within the Daimler group”.
Let’s go back to the track: what future have you planned for Esteban Ocon?
“Everyone recognizes Esteban’s talent, and I really believe that he should have a fixed place in Formula 1 because he is one of the best talents of his generation. Unfortunately last year we were victims of a very particular market situation, and we need to make things clear to allow him to pursue his career in a way that respects the investment and support that Mercedes has given him, obviously without closing doors open by those who showed interest in him”.
Do you mean that you are willing to release him from the Mercedes contract?
“If it will be in another team will be released regardless, it will no longer be a Mercedes driver because if you drive for another team you will be called to give the best for that team”.
What are the plans for Bottas instead?
“Last year Valtteri told me that he has no problems with one-year renewals, although obviously he doesn’t like them, in the end throughout his career he has always had renewals for one season. I think he deserves a place in Formula 1, he knows that it depends on him and his performance and he knows that we like it very much. In the first quarter of the season went very strong, only has to continue doing what he has shown to know how to do, and on this point we agree both”.
Did Russell impress you? The Polish media claim that he has a more powerful power unit than Kubica…
“Really? I am also of Polish origin, why should I not support Kubica? Russell impressed me because I still think Robert is a good driver. George confirmed what we saw him do in the minor formulas, I don’t think that there are many guys who have won GP3 and Formula 2 in two consecutive seasons and in both cases from debutant in both. If Russell continues to grow, improving as a personality and as a driver, he has the right mentality to be a Mercedes driver, like Esteban, and I think they both have a good future ahead of them.
How do you think you can give him a better car?
“Williams just needs to improve. We have a talented driver who deserves to fight for better positions, and Robert deserves it too.
Do you always have a ‘B’ plan ready in the management of your pilots after the shock of the stop of Rosberg at the end of 2016?
“Yes. We also had a plan B even then, because theoretically it was not to be ruled out that one of them (Nico or Lewis) could have stopped. You always have to have alternative plans…B and even C, you have to be always ready. This is a precarious context, simply because a pilot may have a physical problem, you must always have alternative solutions.