Toto Wolff Q&A: Clash will raise temperature of Hamilton/Vettel rivalry
Daniel Riccairdo may have won Sunday’s Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, but it was the controversial collision between title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton that dominated much of the post-race talk. So what did Mercedes chief Toto Wolff make of the incident and what does he think it will do for the relationship between the two protagonists moving forward? Read on to find out...
Q: Toto, what is your take on the incident between Lewis and Sebastian? Lewis said that Sebastian ‘disgraced’ himself with his actions…
Toto Wolff: Did he really say that? Well, the emotions go high in a race car. You have your visor down and have your own perception of what is reality. The only explanation that I have to this wording is that Sebastian thought that Lewis was brake-testing him – which was not the case. That we have seen in the data. So it was probably a wrong judgement from Sebastian’s side. What happened after that I find it hard even to think that he bumped into Lewis on purpose! I’d like to speak to him personally rather than making a pre-judgement only on hearsay!
Q: What kind of damage was there to Lewis’ car?
TW: There was quite a bit of damage in the diffuser area, which didn’t help performance.
Q: How did you see the penalty imposed on Sebastian?
TW: Well, if a driver does something like this on purpose – in sheer anger - then you need to think about the size of the penalty. He is a four-time world champion – and we are setting examples to all the young drivers out there about what is allowed and what a no-go. So we have to think twice!
Q: Did the bump into Lewis’ car have anything to do with his loose headrest later on in the race?
TW: Why the headrest came loose we have to analyse with our design department. Maybe it was not properly locked – and no it had nothing to do with the Sebastian incident. I also cannot say if there were similar issues with it before – at least I have not heard anything about it.
Q. Do you think that today’s incident between Lewis and Seb will heat up the championship fight between Mercedes and Ferrari?
TW: We are eight races into the season and the two guys respect each other a lot – and now we have a situation where there is more controversy and it was always clear that this could happen at any race. I still believe that today’s incident will not change the respect level – but yes with every race the heat level will rise between the two greats of their sport. Maybe the schmoozing times are over!
Q: You have not answered if you agree with the size of the penalty…
TW: First of all: Lewis didn’t do anything wrong. The data proves it. So he is fine. Imposing penalties is always a matter of fine judgement – also in the eyes of the millions of fans that are watching us. Now for me this is done and dusted and in my mind I am already in Austria.
Q: With all the penalty talk, Valtteri’s race has gone a bit unnoticed. How did you see his performance?
TW: His race was amazing. His start – especially Turn 2 was unfortunate – he simply bounced off the curbs and fell far behind, and we knew that his only chance to get into the game again was a safety car. And coming from so far behind and finishing in P2 was a miracle of the sport – equal to Daniel’s [Ricciardo] performance starting from P10 and finishing first and Lance on the podium – it was one of those races where anything could happen – and it did. The unpredictability of the result was simply marvellous!
Q: For the three previous years you’ve been talking only about your own to drivers when it came to on-track rivalry. Is it now a different kind of rivalry level?
TW: Look, Lewis and Sebastian share seven title wins among them – so they know the business. Probably in a couple of hours Sebastian will know that his action didn’t look great. For me the matter is already history, but of course the heat level is going up! We are fighting for the crown in motorsport – this is not a bumper car event.
Q: What about all the talk of mutual respect? Is that a thing of the past from today onwards?
TW: They are warriors! In the race you are at war! You don’t want to miss out on anything. Yes, during the race they are ‘enemies’ and it can get very emotional if you think that somebody is doing something to you. But as I said before – the data show that Lewis didn’t brake test. So yes, the heat will go up – but after the race we should all be able to have a beer together, like in many other sports. So I think there is no damage to the respect. I hope not. This sport needs rivalry – and what we have seen today has the ingredients of a great championship. Those who fight for the title in the end cannot be friends – that is for sure – so what can remain is respect. Maybe we’ve seen the limitations of that respect.