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Toto Wolff Q&A: Mercedes, not drivers, must decide strategy

15 Nov 2015

Mercedes' strategy calls became an unintentional talking point in Brazil, as Lewis Hamilton appealed for tactical freedom in a bid to take the fight to team mate Nico Rosberg. Mercedes-Benz's head of motorsport Toto Wolff says the team won't relinquish control however - particularly as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are close enough to capitalise if the gamble backfires...

Q: Toto, Lewis wanted desperately to win this Grand Prix - to finally tick the box after eight disappointments. He was pushing Nico very hard, and at one point asked for a strategy change – but it did not happen…

Toto Wolff: We have our principles when it comes to strategy, in place since 2013 - and they have worked well. We will not change that. In the car you don't have the complete picture. In that particular moment, Lewis's tyres were going off and the talk was about the three-stop strategy. This would have been around ten seconds slower, so he might even have lost out to Sebastian [Vettel]. It was therefore out of the question. Of course the driver in the car is emotional - that is understandable. We have hired guard dogs, not puppies!

Q: So you wouldn't discuss strategy changes with the drivers during a race?

TW: No. We have our strategists - and if the drivers in the car start to make their own [decisions] they would lose every single race. Strategy is not an instinct-driven decision. Yes, the instinct might be right sometimes, but without having the full set of data you are going to get the majority of your races wrong. That's why we keep it as it is.

Q: Can you understand the fans being a bit disappointed when they don't get all-out races?

TW: I can understand. But we have already changed the situation in this respect massively. Think back years ago when top teams had a clear number one driver, and the number two driver was not getting anywhere near the number one. We've changed that. And believe me it is sometimes pretty difficult to manage letting the two fight with each other. Now you could take it even a step further and let the strategists fight each other! But this is not where we want to get. 

Q: Now that Nico has also secured P2 in the drivers' standings why not let the drivers decide their strategy in Abu Dhabi? You have nothing to lose any more… 

TW: I bet if we tell them ‘go on - make your own race', neither of them would do it! 

Q: Do you think that Nico has raised his game and that Lewis has dropped his after his title win? Nico has five consecutive poles and two victories on the bounce now...

TW: Well, racing drivers are a special kind of species! (laughs) Yes, you could say that Lewis has reached his target and his adrenalin is not as high as it was - and Nico is driving without pressure - and this is the result. But I am not sure that even they know themselves why it is now how it is. Probably we will all spend time over the winter reflecting on what has happened towards the end of the season. But one thing is very clear: you can see Nico's class now. And we always knew that Nico's class is important to make Lewis perform like he did - and to make the car faster and the team progress. Mexico and Brazil were showcases for Nico's class.

Q: Is Nico's run the best scenario for him - and the team - in terms of preparing for next season?

TW: Yes, probably you could say that everything is falling in the right place. Lewis winning the championship and now Nico securing P2 with a dominant performance... from the team's perspective that's pretty optimum!

Q: Did the incidents in Suzuka and Austin - where Lewis was very aggressive - aggravate Nico? And is he now showing his true potential?

TW: Well, I think Nico is still developing as a racing driver and you could see that all those Turn 1 incidents had a pretty similar pattern of how you position yourself. When you are the outside car you have to give up if the guy in the other car is as determined as Lewis is. That isn't just a dynamic between these two - it is a basic part of racing. Only in very seldom cases does it work - like today with Verstappen, who managed to hold on...

Q: Mercedes were again in a league of their own. Do we have to rely on Ferrari closing the gap in 2016 to see exciting races?

TW: We are not relying on that. We don't want to! We see that if you follow aerodynamically efficient cars you destroy your tyres - you follow for a certain number of laps and then there is no power left in your tyres. Once that happens, the top car runs away at the front. That is what we probably saw today. It's like with football: you have boring matches and sizzling matches - and probably we saw today a boring match.

Q: But have Ferrari come closer? On the evidence of the last two weekends, it doesn't appear so...

TW: I am anticipating a tough challenge with Ferrari in 2016. They have done some clever moves - and yes, they have definitely caught up. So they will be a very important competitor - a very welcome competitor.