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Exclusive Toto Wolff Q&A: Our drivers remain free to fight

10 May 2014

On Saturday in Spain, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked-out the front row of the grid for the second time in five races. The last time it happened, in Bahrain, we were treated to an epic race-long battle between the Mercedes drivers, but will they be allowed to race each other as hard in Barcelona? Absolutely, as Mercedes’ executive director Toto Wolff explains in this exclusive interview…

Q: Toto, would you agree that Mercedes are doing better than in your wildest dreams?

Toto Wolff: Ha, generally I tend not to have wild dreams! Unfortunately, even in my dreams I am a down-to-reality kind of person. But if I ever had ‘wildest dreams’ then our situation right now would be better than in any kind of wild dreams!

Q: So, what did you dream of for this season?

TW: Well, what we have now was hard to envision - either in dreams or in reality. Even if you had won everything in the previous season you could not expect to come home one-two in three out of four races. And it is not the mentality that you should have in Formula One. The minute you bank on expectations, you’re losing the plot. The mentality we want to breathe into the team is to work hard, work intelligently, enjoy it when you’re winning, but on Monday morning forget about what happened on Sunday. Forget about the result and start to work in the same hard manner all over again.

Q: After four races Mercedes are almost 100 points ahead of reigning constructors’ champions Red Bull. There don’t seem to be any signs that the situation will change any time soon, but have you seen any indications of the other usual suspects picking up performance?

TW: I think we have to wait to see what the race will bring. Barcelona is usually the race where you get some kind of indications of where you really are, especially on the chassis side. Yes, so far we’ve done pretty well this weekend - that’s obvious when you occupy the front row - but it is not our philosophy to rest on past laurels. We want to keep the momentum, and that’s why we will continue to work hard constantly.

Q: Franz Tost very recently said that he is sure that you could go even faster. That became obvious after the Bahrain safety car phase when within only a couple of laps you again produced a significant gap to all of those behind…

TW: That could probably be the wildest dream! (laughs)

Q: But could it be that you are sandbagging?

TW: No, because every time you take the car to the track you need to test your performance - and where your performance gets you to. Sandbagging is a thing of the past. You need to explore all avenues of performance, so no, no sandbagging.

Q: Mercedes seems to have it in its hands as to whether it’s a sizzling or a boring season - depending on how hard your two drivers race against each other. Will you allow a Bahrain-style battle once in a while?

TW: Yes, we want Bahrain to happen at every race! It will probably mean lots more grey hair for us, but that is how we want to go about racing - and how we want to continue. Hard racing is the philosophy we want to maintain, but also keeping in mind that the team comes first.

Q: Do the drivers remember that in the heat of a race?

TW: They know that - and even in the heat of the race they must not forget that!

Q: The rumour is that for the time being Lewis has forsaken many of his non-racing related interests such as music, fashion and so on. Did you cut him down to racing driver dimensions again?

TW: No, no cutting down! But don’t forget: Lewis is still very young. It is a matter of personal development and the only one responsible for developing Lewis is Lewis himself. From what I can see from the outside he is in a good place in his life - and that probably is what propels him right now.

Q: Can it also be that because winning is a possibility at every race he has refocused his efforts?

TW: Probably. Lewis wants to win and if you suddenly see that you have the tools in your hands to do so then the joy returns. The chance to win can be a fantastic stimulation.

Q: What do you make of your two drivers? Right now Lewis seems to have a bit of an edge on Nico Rosberg…

TW: Yes, if you look at the last couple of races it seems that Lewis has the edge because he won the races. But both of them are fantastic drivers. The fight between them is very intense and if you are on a roll like Lewis it is not written anywhere that this is going to continue. Lewis knows that he has to be on the case - the same, as Nico knows that. We will see strong performances from both drivers during the season.

Q: It would be unfair to say that all of Mercedes’ success is based on Paddy Lowe’s merits, wouldn’t it? Did the team’s breakthrough come too late for (former team principal) Ross Brawn?

TW: Let’s make it very clear: lots of the foundation of what we have now comes from Ross. He is very admired in the team for what he did. But nevertheless you must never base success on single individuals. The team has 800 employees in Brackley and 400 employees in Brixworth - each of these individuals contributes to the success of the team. So it is always a bit of an irritation when what is translated by the media is about the contribution of a handful of highly-visible members compared to the 1,200 individuals who are working in the background.

Q: If Ross was still with the team, wouldn’t he be getting all the glory? People might have said: ‘He’s done it again, just like in 2009.’ Without him perhaps Mercedes gets more of the credit…

TW: That is a media point of view, but it is not how our company, our team, functions. True, Ross definitely was one of the very influential members of the success of the team. We honour and admire that every single day. We are in contact with Ross and there is nothing more I’d like to do than have him with us at the races to see and be part of the foundations that he built. Having said that, it is also clear that success is never down to a single individual - it’s the effort of every single individual in the team. I could instantly name you 50 engineers who have had a very strong input into the car - and they are the ones who I have direct relationships with. There are hundreds of others who are extremely important for the organisation and that is the reason why we are successful. Your question also implies that we knew last year that we would be successful this season - and we all know that planning success in F1 is impossible.

Q: You’ve had three one-two finishes already this season - can you make it a fourth on Sunday?

TW: That is our target - and this is why we are here.

Q: If qualifying is an indication it seems very likely…

TW: Performance-wise it is manageable. The power units and the chassis are state-of-the-art, but it also must be state-of-the-art to bring these two components together. Of course reliability is still a key issue. So what we’ve seen today was fantastic, but Saturday afternoon is not Sunday afternoon!

Q: Would you bet your money on a one-two?

TW: I’m not a betting man. I’d rather have a one-two and spend my money on a nice cold beer! (laughs)