Q&A with Mercedes Ross Brawn and Toto Wolff 05 Feb 2013
Mercedes have made plenty of headlines over the last six months with the departure of Michael Schumacher, the arrival of Lewis Hamilton from McLaren and the appointment of Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff to senior management roles. Following the launch of the Brackley-based teams new car, the F1 W04, in Jerez, team principal Ross Brawn and Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff spoke to the media about the upcoming season, how they plan to turn around the squads fortunes, and addressed rumours of another technical reshuffle...
Q: Ross, there has been quite a significant management shake-up at Mercedes. How will that affect the season?
Ross Brawn: I think that those areas that have an immediate effect have already been made in 2012 -and it comes through now. All those engineering changes that we made at the beginning of 2012 have come through now on this car. The senior management changes that weve made lately have no direct influence on car performance at all. What we can look forward to in the next few years is the benefit of the senior management changes - Totos involvement, Nikis involvement - which will help with the strategic approach, but I think from the engineering perspective and the operation of the race team, nothing changes in that respect. But what we can do is take a strategic view in the long term.
Q: Looking at the car, what areas that were issues last year have you been able to fix?
RB: Simply, aerodynamic performance is always very significant and if you improve there -if you improve the efficiency - then you have a better chance to do well. I think we have a much better understanding now about the exhaust and the suspension - all these things that have a huge impact on the performance. Yes, I would say that the aerodynamic performance is the core, which is addressed by the upgrades that weve done over the winter. I am pretty sure that weve had the right intuition! (laughs)
Q: The feeling in the paddock is that Mercedes have an awful lot of technical chiefs. There is Bob Bell, Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis and the rumour was that Paddy Lowe would also join the technical department from McLaren. What do you say about all that?
RB: Well, I think that the structure we have now is a structure that had been designed in 2012 with Bob Bell as technical director. It is quite clear that there is a lot of demands on the engineering teams - especially when you are looking at a new car as we are doing for 2014. The new car is so dramatically different to the existing car that we are having parallel engineering groups to do the current car and to do the new car. As an engine manufacturer we have to have a lot of input into the design of the engine to get the engine right for the chassis. If you are simply a customer you take what the engine supplier gives you, but as we are a complete team, our group has to start to work on the new car much earlier than other teams as we have to understand what sort of engine we want to have for the car. That parallel development is crucial. Ferrari already announced a while ago that they have two teams working on the 2013 and 2014 cars and that is what we have also done. So the names we have on our organization might be a bit wider known, but it is the essential structure that you need to support these programs.
Q: So what about the rumours with Paddy Lowe?
RB: Nothing. He is with McLaren this year. At least this is what McLaren has announced. There is nothing to add to this Im afraid.
Q: Toto, Paddy Lowe stayed away from the McLaren launch. It seems clear that hell stay in Woking for this year, but what about 2014? Will there be a fight over him for 2014?
Toto Wolff: Well, let me say this first: I think its a bit unfair to speak about others when we are launching our car. This is a bit disrespectful to all the guys at Mercedes who have worked extremely hard, so all the rumours about people joining is not good at that stage and doesnt help. To come back to Paddy Lowe, I think he is well recognised as one of the top guys within the paddock, so not only McLaren but a couple of other teams must be interested in him. At this stage I cannot say more than this: he is at McLaren this year and lets get on with our job and see that 2013 will be a success.
Q: Before, with Williams, you were with a team that were an engine customer. In the meantime your situation has changed significantly with Mercedes, as an engine supplier, wanting to gain revenue from their engine development. Are you sure that the new V6 1.6-litre turbo engine will be introduced in 2014?
TW: Yes, I am one hundred percent sure that the new engine will come in 2014. It is all pre-manufactured. Three manufacturers are pretty far along with their engines and we probably will see a fourth one joining. The decision has been made for good or for bad. It is a nice piece of engineering and its the future. We have to get used to these changes.
Q: Ross, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton - how do you see this relationship going?
RB: I think the dynamic with Lewis and Nico is going to be very interesting. They are good friends. Of course I know Nico better than Lewis, but from what I see they are very professional with each other and they are very committed. Both have understood that we have to work as a team to take the team forward on the grid, but of course they will also try to beat each other. We have a great pairing of drivers and I expect both drivers to contribute an enormous amount behind the scenes also.
Q: Might it be that they ask different things from the car?
RB: Perhaps, but then you have to understand the reasons why they ask different things. I have no experience yet of Lewis driving style, the things that Lewis would like to see on the car. We have worked on the simulator, which gives us a bit of insight. I personally dont believe that they will ask very different things, but we still have to make that experience.
Q: Toto, you are a shareholder in the team. Are you planning, in the future, to buy more shares and eventually become the sole owner of the team?
TW: I am not looking at buying more shares. I have a dream situation because I am part of the management team of the Silver Arrows works team. Mercedes-Benz is the majority shareholder and their aim was to have a managing partner taking responsibility, taking financial responsibility. In my function as Mercedes motorsport director I have moved to Brackley as well to be closer to the team. So no immediate plans to buy any more shares. Mercedes has committed themselves long term and this is very important for me and I am pretty optimistic that we will stay with this shareholder structure for a couple of years. The team has seen quite some changes over the last ten years so lets restore calm and start to work.
Q: Ross, the new car looks rather conservative compared to others. Was that a reaction to some more adventurous designs that you had in the past and that did not deliver?
RB: It was not intentional. But we had a transition of the management of the aero group, and the task was to produce a strong, predictable car. Theyve been looking at a number of concepts and this car has taken a good step forward in terms of aerodynamic performance and that is all that matters. We are comfortable with the design solutions that we have come up with, but of course Melbourne will be the real test if everybodys concept - including ours - will deliver. We are comfortable with what weve done. The new front wing in not on the car yet. Were bringing it later this week and we have some pretty exciting things up our sleeves that we will introduce in the next couple of weeks, and then we are ready to see where we are when we get to Melbourne.
Q: Passive double-DRS is still legal, but still a rocky road. Are you planning to run it at the first race?
RB: It is indeed very difficult to get it to work. I would not say that we have found the perfect solution yet, but we will do some work at the next tests to see where we are.
Q: Ross, Lewis said that the team starts the season almost one second short of the frontrunners. That indeed sounds like a huge challenge. What if by Silverstone you find out that the gap has not significantly narrowed? Will you then abandon the 2013 car for the sake of the 2014 machine?
RB: I think inevitably as the season progresses you make your call on priorities, but it is difficult to make a statement so far ahead. We have two programs running - the 2013 and the 2014 - and of course your resources swing between the two as you see the greatest opportunity. It is not our plan to reduce the effort on the 2013 car - we want to make maximum pressure the whole season. Last year we started strongly and then faded in the second half of the season - we dont want to fade this year. Should we reach a point where we see that there is nothing more to gain then you have to set some different priorities, but our initial plan is to push with our 2013 program until the very last race.
Q: What are realistic targets for 2013?
RB: To improve. We have to get forward. How far forward is hard to say as this depends on what the others are doing. But for sure we have to improve from where we are. Where we are is not acceptable. The objective of the team is to move forward. I am optimistic that well do that. The restructure that we did will come through this year.
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