Toto Wolff Q&A: Hamilton swap was right call – even if it costs us the title
If Lewis Hamilton’s relationship with former team mate Nico Rosberg was frosty, his relationship with Valtteri Bottas has been anything but, and in Hungary the duo’s mutual respect saw them swap positions not once but twice. But while Hamilton’s decision to cede third position - and three potentially crucial points in the world title chase - seemed foolhardy to some, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said it was one the team would forever be in favour of…
Q: Toto, one of the biggest issues that you had in the race was a communication problem. Can you be more precise on what worked and what didn't?
Toto Wolff: Our data system broke down. We didn’t have any communication on our middle console in the garage and on the pit wall -no data, no TV feed, nothing. We managed to get it back occasionally. What that means for a race everybody can imagine!
Q: Can you tell about the discussions that you had with Lewis to let Valtteri pass again? Was he relaxed about it?
TW: When Lewis passed Valtteri it seemed that Lewis’s pace was quicker and we weren’t quite sure whether Valtteri was managing the gap to the Ferraris because the moment you come close you ruin your tyres, so he stayed a bit behind. In that situation Lewis thought that he could go quicker and was saying "give me a shot!", and he passed. Lewis was not able to pass [Raikkonen] so in the last couple of laps we had discussions internally how we could swap Valtteri back again as Verstappen was getting closer and we didn’t want to lose the podium. So we discussed the gaps and where the right place for the swap would be. The idea was the last lap into the last corner because that would limit any overtaking opportunities from behind. There have not been any similar discussions – it was a very sportsmanlike behaviour – to Valtteri before. It was a very difficult call for the team and of course very difficult for Lewis.
Q: Without the communication issues would you have done the first swap earlier? Would that have made a difference?
TW: We could have done it probably a couple of laps earlier when Lewis told us that he thought he could go quicker and that his first set of tyres were still in good shape. Maybe we could have tried to leave him out – that could have had a potentially massive outcome for the race as we were so close to the Ferraris in the end. If and when never helps afterwards.
Q: That communication failure: was it a Stuttgart, Brackley or a local matter?
TW: It was a local hardware issue. We found a crack in a fibre optic cable.
Q: Has Mercedes’ approach to the drivers' championship changed? Ferrari very much looks to be backing Sebastian Vettel. In Bahrain Valtteri let Lewis pass – and he finished in P2 and Valtteri in P3. In Budapest Valtteri finished in P3 - but that has cost Lewis three points in the championship. Why is Mercedes not adopting a similar approach to Ferrari?
TW: Because these values made us win six championships and will make us win more championships in the future, in the years to come. Yes it cost us three points and potentially the drivers' championship, we are perfectly conscious about that. Nevertheless it is how the drivers and the team operate. We stick to what we say. If the consequences are as much as losing the championship – we take it!
Q: You must surely have had discussions about the Ferrari situation – why they did not let the faster car pass…
TW: Difficult to say. Towards the end Sebastian’s pace recovered and he managed to stay ahead of us. So it seems what they didworked out for them.
Q: What did you make of Ferrari’s pace?
TW: I don’t think we saw their full race pace as Sebastian’s car was damaged – the steering wheel hanging to the left – and you could see that when Sebastian pitted and Kimi [Raikkonen] was in free air that he did very fast sector times. My guess is that if they had let him go he could have probably overtaken. But then you hear that Fernando Alonso did the fastest lap of the race. So my guess is that we have not seen the real Ferrari pace.
Q: When Lewis was fighting with Max in the early stages of the race he mentioned Max Verstappen's dangerous driving…
TW: We were talking with Lewis and he said he was not happy with the way Max was driving but that is something between the two of them – on the track.
Q: Coming back to the re-swap: was it a suggestion to Lewis or an order?
TW: It was a suggestion. When he said that he was able to go faster it was clear for him that if it didn’t work out that we would invert the cars again. There was no need for ‘instructions.’
Q: If Lewis ends up missing out on the championship by three points, would you regret your Budapest decision?
TW: Saying that I wouldn’t regret the decision would be very naive. The truth is that if you miss out the championship by those three points everybody would point the finger to Budapest. Then I would be the first one to shoot myself in the knee – and all of us! Nevertheless, in the long term standing by our principles and values will make us win more championships, that is what I believe. Yes, it was a tough call to make, and probably the most difficult that we had to make in the last five years, but it was the right one in terms of our values. We want to do it the right way. And that is sometimes very tough.
Q: F1 is now heading into the summer break, the perfect time perhaps to reflect on the driver line-up for 2018…
TW: Yes, it is a good time to talk and think things through. We had a good discussion with Valtteri before Hungary and I certainly want to go into the second half of the season with a decision on our 2018 drivers.