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Exclusive Toto Wolff Q&A: Mercedes 'flawless' on first day

02 Feb 2015

Mercedes began the 2015 season in ominous fashion, as their new F1 W06 Hybrid set the early pace and racked up an astonishing 157 trouble-free laps on the opening day in Jerez. In an exclusive interview, the Silver Arrows' head of motorsport Toto Wolff explains why the team hasn't let up over the winter, and also discusses which rival teams he fears, why the team is braced for more driver tensions, and the latest on a potential new deal with Lewis Hamilton...

Q: Toto, after Mercedes' record-breaking success last year, how are you going to maintain your momentum? Are you hungrier than ever?
Toto Wolff: 
If you want to be successful in Formula One staying hungry is what you have to have in your genes. Staying hungry is a state of mind. The team will keep the momentum, because we are as hungry as we were last year or two years ago. There is no complacency! There is no change in attitude within the team.

Q: Mercedes won everything last season: the constructors' title, the drivers title - and as an add-on, also second place in the drivers' championship. Isn't there a moment when everybody simply wants to exhale?
If you lose motivation after the first championship, then something would be wrong. We have achieved step number one on our agenda. True, we had an extraordinary season: 16 wins out of 19 races. We've been breaking records. This is not something that we can automatically expect for this year, or any other season, because it was exceptional. Nevertheless we will try. For the moment everything has been set back to zero so we start out like all the other teams and now it is all about doing the best possible job over the next ten months in order to come out victorious again at the end of the season.

Q: There is a suggestion that Mercedes can again only beat themselves. Is that so? Do you see any challenges on the horizon?
There are lots of challenges on the horizon. First and foremost, we have to do our own job right. We have to have a fast car, but also a reliable one. We have to execute races in the right way - and get faultless in that execution. Believe me, there are lots of areas where we want to improve. I say that without diminishing what we achieved last year. Actually we are eager to improve. These are the first days of the first test - so we've just started…

Q: But you know where you stand in terms of the car and power unit - and you very likely know where the others are…
Yes, I have a carefully optimistic feeling that we are going to be competitive. But then you never can tell. Others might come forward having found a magic bullet: a development option that we haven't seen. Right now there are lots of variables that I wouldn't want to judge because I simply don't know.

Q: From gut feeling, who is likely to be your main competition?
I would say the usual suspects. I still see Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams and also McLaren with their new partner Honda. They might be strong contenders...

Q: Lewis [Hamilton] said that he is in for championship number three. But isn't it the turn of Nico [Rosberg] now?
Before we start that discussion: we have to provide them with a car that gives them the tool to fight for the championship. They had a very intense battle last year and I have no doubt that if they have a good car they will be fighting for wins and the championship again. But honestly I don't see 2015 as a runaway season for one of the two - so there will be lots of 'excitement' for the team and another sizzling season for the fans.

Q: Would that situation really be 'exciting' for the team? There were moments of serious tension between your two guys last year, especially in the second half of the season, and it won't get easier in 2015. How can a team function with constant tension?
We chose a strategy of 'let them race'. For a team it is better to have two equally good drivers trying to beat each other - but also sharing data with each other. That is when a team is getting pushed forward. The downside - the intense competition - we will live with. We have learned from last season. We have matured as a team, including the drivers. Yes, I have no illusions that 2015 will be an easier year. There will again be times of discussion, sure. But these are the situations that bring you to the front.

Q: Has the winter helped calm things down - have the two 'frenemies' moved closer together again?
Frenemies - I haven't heard that word! (laughs) At this stage in their life they are team mates - and competitors. This is how it is. It makes no sense to hope for harmony when no harmony can be expected.

Q: Lewis has not signed a new contract so far. What is the state of affairs?
We are having discussions - very positive ones, which will come to a positive end soon. I have no doubt about that!

Q: Where are the glitches?
There are no glitches at all - we simply haven't started the discussion over the winter because everybody needed a break to refocus and recharge the batteries. We met each other after the break one week ago and had a good discussion. There is no hurry. It's only January and his contract runs for another year. So when we discuss, it's still about something that's happening in 12 months. No stress.

Q: But you are confident that he will stay?
Yes. We want him to stay and he wants to stay, so there are no risks in taking the situation calmly. 

Q: Ron Dennis said that without doubt McLaren has the strongest driver pairing - what is your reply to that?
Let's not talk, let's race!

Q: In the last two years Mercedes has hired a lot of new people. Is that process now finished? Do you now have what you need?
The structure of the team has reached a stage where we can be very satisfied that everything has come together. Nevertheless a team is not something static. The development of the team is a dynamic process with an ever-changing political environment, with changes in the technical and sporting regulations - and all that has influence on how a team functions best. We frequently have discussions about the structure of the team with a firm eye on the future and how we need to be organised when the winds of change blow again. It is too late to react when the winds have already blown.

Q: Is there anybody in the paddock you would like to hire?
With all the necessary respect to the other teams in the paddock‎ and the talented people working there, I must say no. 

Q: In terms of power units, Mercedes set the benchmark last year, and of course they want to maintain that dominance. On the other hand, racing in your own league can become a bit dull. Do you think a reasonable solution has been reached regarding engine development, for Mercedes and your rivals?
The rules are the rules. You cannot change the rules because your primary objective is to damage the performance of the current leader. You have to keep the financial impact and the big picture in mind. If we change the rules again that would trigger more development costs - and who bears that cost? So these discussions are very opportunistic. But this is how F1 functions. There is a large scope of development, which you can implement in the season in terms of the engine.

Q: So from Mercedes side you see the situation as a completely fair game?
Yes, as a completely fair game - and I don't think that anybody says that it is not a fair game. It is just that some think they need a rule change to disadvantage us and advantage themselves - and I am not sure that would be the case.

Q: Coming back to the first day of testing: how did things go?
Nico completed an amazing 157 laps - flawless. The times have no significance, but the distance does. So without being carried away I would say it was a very good day for us.

Q: It was pretty chilly the whole morning - something in the range of 5 to 7 degrees Celsius. Are those good conditions for testing? How significant is the information you can draw?
I think it looks pretty intelligent to go to Bahrain [for the second and third tests] as you have the right temperature there and the information you draw from testing there probably has more significance. But we were lucky: it was sunny on the first day [in Jerez]. The fact is testing in winter must be a compromise between costs and being able to properly test. Obviously the best option would be to go to the Middle East - but the teams have to be able to afford flying out. This is an issue today.