Toto Wolff Q&A: This was the hardest championship win for Mercedes
It was jubilation at the chequered flag for Mercedes in Mexico as Lewis Hamilton clinched the drivers' title, but their garage was an altogether different place after a first lap-incident left their man last and the championship in the balance. After the celebrations, team boss Toto Wolff discussed an eventful race, a tough year and what this triumph meant to the team...
Q: Toto, it was one of the more difficult races for Lewis and you. What was on your mind 30 seconds after the start as the drivers’ championship was at stake?
Toto Wolff: Actually I hated every bit of the race. (Laughs) Max [Verstappen] knew that there was a lot at stake for Sebastian [Vettel] and Lewis. Sebastian knew that his only chance was to win the race and Lewis staying far behind. And Lewis who started a bit carefully found himself suddenly in the middle of the pack and somehow saw an opportunity to dive into the lead – and the consequence of this was the accident.
Q: What were your thoughts?
TW: At that stage: keep calm, understand the situation and take it from there.
Q: It’s Lewis’ fourth championship. No British driver has achieved that. Would you say that it was the hardest one for him?
TW: Certainly for the team it was the hardest. We had quite some ups and downs with the new cars and the new tyres and to accept that from now on this is the reality. The progress was very difficult for the team and took the maximum out of all of us. For Lewis I don’t know – this he has to answer.
Q: He has won three of his four titles with Mercedes – what’s your guess?
TW: Well, if you ask me that direct I would say that fighting with his team mate was probably the hardest. Hard in a different way. Having the ‘enemy’ in the same team is a different struggle – or fight - than fighting Seb and Ferrari.
Q: Lewis said that one of the key moments for him this season was to sort things out over the winter. He met with you to get clarity over some of the controversies of the 2016 season…
TW: After Abu Dhabi last year we felt that in the course of the season things have built up so we decided to meet and discuss things. After a couple of hours all disagreements had been sorted out. We had clarity on decisions that had been taken during the year so we were able to move on to a new chapter in 2017. We both felt relief. Our relationship then went to the next level.
Q: What was more difficult from a team management perspective: '2016: the enemy within' or '2017: the enemy outside'?
TW: The enemy without was more difficult to manage. Ferrari has put the level up a lot and after the summer break Red Bull came on in again. In a team you are always in a more comfortable situation if you know that one of your two guys will win the championship. Managing the internal team mate rivalry was not easy at times, but far away from the struggles that we have seen this year.
Q: What was the most emotional?
TW: 2014 – because we have been so keen to win it!
Q: Lewis walks away with the title today – the most successful British driver ever – after a race in which he was lapped. If statistics are right the last time that happened was 1976 with James Hunt. Have you spoken with Lewis about that?
TW: To be honest it doesn’t matter at all. He has won the title! He has been hit by another car – came back into the race - end of story. The race result today is irrelevant. Seb had to finish second, but with Max winning and Valtteri [Bottas] finishing second Seb’s dreams were cut short.
Q: Can you say what happened on lap one from your perspective?
TW: Well, half of Lewis’ left diffuser was ripped off so we lost a lot of performance and the car was severely damaged. That was the end of Lewis thinking that he has found an opportunity of making it into the lead. Sebastian was in the middle and had probably a bit of a moment then and crashed into Lewis, finishing his race and Lewis’ race. I just look at the positives of that race: Lewis has won the championship!
Q: Did you have to motivate Lewis after the first few laps?
TW: Yes. In the car you are not aware what is going on. He didn’t know if Sebastian was still in the hunt. As he had put all the focus on getting the maximum performance for the race we didn’t really focus so much on the points, but suddenly it somehow became an issue. Lewis asked if there was a possibility for Sebastian to finish in the top two – we told him no. His answer was okay and a level of calmness settled down and we went on with the race.
Q: Without that first lap incident, what’s your guess of the race outcome?
TW: I think Lewis would have won the race.