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Exclusive Toto Wolff Q&A: It's going to be emotional

21 Nov 2014

His team have already wrapped up the constructors’ crown and on Sunday Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, will see one his drivers - Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg - crowned world champion. Ahead of the Abu Dhabi showdown, Wolff talks about domination, double points, Nico versus Lewis, engine ‘freezes’, and the responsibilities that come with being a leading Formula One team…

Q: Toto, Mercedes have made the impossible dream come true, in all likelihood winning 16 of 19 races. What does such dominance mean for a team?

Toto Wolff: Yes, it is true: it is an unbelievable record. When I was a teenager - in 1988 - McLaren also had such an unbelievable record. Their cars dominated everything back then - and that we are in a position to equal that record - and beat that record - that is a fantastic confirmation of the decisions that we have taken this year and in the past years.

Q: …and what does it mean for Formula One racing, having such dominance by one team?

TW: Is there anybody out there who believes that it was a boring season? Not one single soul. It was an incredibly exciting season - despite our record. Our drivers were battling each other to the limit - and I am sure that the fans appreciate that. Just remember last season: Sebastian Vettel won the last nine races and the championship was decided way too early - now it is still wide open. Now you could ask do we want to have more cars fighting for the championship, yes. But history has also shown that in some years one team is dominant. Four years in a row it was Red Bull Racing; before it was Ferrari with Michael Schumacher; it was McLaren for a couple of years - so there seems to be a certain pattern. We have done this for one year now - so no pattern yet! There are still many more inspirational records left.

Q: If you look back, at what point did you start to believe that this could be a ‘silver season’?

TW: That was after Suzuka. That’s when I started to trust our performance. We are all rather on the sceptical side - always. We have seen in the past championships slip away for whatever reasons - and Suzuka was the confirmation that we will win this championship. Saying that, you probably could argue that I’m more the ‘glass half empty’ than the ‘glass half full’ type. And believe me, that trait doesn’t make life easier.

Q: The drivers’ title is still open. The double points bring it down to the very last lap of the very last race. So the fans should appreciate it. But will the teams? Could 2015 see a return to the old procedure?

TW: I was never in favour of double points at the last race - although I was part of the group that voted for it. Probably we all have underestimated the impact - and brushed aside many critical voices. But I completely understand where it came from: last year with the serial winning of Sebastian (Vettel) and the championship decided early there was the need to spice things up. And yes, the concept succeeded! Everybody speaks about Formula One - about the controversial double points - so Formula One is in the news all the time. Now we have to sit down and see if we should keep them. From a sporting point of view we all agree that this is something that wants to be discussed - but let’s see what the TV numbers say - and then let’s talk about it!

Q: It’s still Nico versus Lewis, and both have to keep their nerves. Where do you see the strengths of both on Sunday?

TW: They are very good at keeping it cool. They are both at the pinnacle of their careers and abilities. Mental strength is also a crucial ingredient of a successful driver - and both are very well equipped with it.

Q: Who of the two can handle defeat better? Because one will be disappointed on Sunday afternoon…

TW: I don’t think that there is such thing as a competitive Formula One driver who can handle defeat easily. If you lose a world championship - and lose it against your team mate in the same car - that is pretty displeasing to say the least. We will see some big swings of emotions on Sunday evening. At least that is what we expect.

Q: In the moment of Mercedes’ biggest triumph, Formula One racing is facing some tough issues. Are the costs of the new technology too high for the smaller teams?

TW: This new technology was crucial to re-invent Formula One again. F1 needs to be spectacular - and cutting-edge technology. F1 needs to be at the forefront of innovation. Formula One cars have to be road relevant. With a ‘stone-age engine’ as was the V8 you might end up with road cars being more advanced and developed than Formula One cars - and that must not happen. Yes, the engines are more expensive - and yes we are looking at that issue and the costs will go down in the next couple of years - but I dismiss [the notion] that this is one of the core problems which has led to a situation where some of the teams are in trouble.

Q: Force India say that they have to spend 80 percent of their yearly budget for the power unit…

TW: I am not really sure who made that calculation - because if I put a number down on a piece of paper the number is very different to what was mentioned in that letter. I am not sure what was the reasoning behind coming up with these ‘fantasy numbers’.

Q: Are the big teams too selfish? If so, does that trait have the potential to jeopardise the existence of the back markers?

TW: Our main agenda is that our team is competitive. That is why we are here. Sure you have to look left and right, and as a big team have a certain responsibility to observe what is going on around me. Mercedes care a lot about the small teams, but we can only go up to a certain point. We are not in charge of the sport and we are not one of the teams that is at the top of the money distribution pyramid. Actually quite far away!

Q: What is state of affairs right now with the so-called ‘engine freeze’ discussions? What would it mean if there were to be an easing of the ‘freeze’?

TW: Let me get that straight: there is no such thing as an ‘engine freeze’. Ninety-two percent of the engine can be changed for next year - so that is the opposite of ‘freeze’. Actually it is pretty much ‘unfrozen’!

Q: …but then why are certain parties making so much noise about it?

TW: That is politics. They believe that when opening up the engine regulations they will be able to reduce the gap and help them in terms of performance. That is why it is chewed over in public. And to be honest, I understand it. They need to try to improve their competitiveness with whatever it takes. But they have positioned themselves with what they’ve got right now - and we have to get on with our job.

Q: If you could pick one moment from 2014 as your personal highlight, what would that be?

TW: That was clearly my home race in Austria. It was there that my racing career started some 20 years ago. Running a team and having a one-two finish - and with Williams coming in third to make it three Mercedes-powered cars on the podium - that was my personal highlight.