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Toto Wolff Q&A: Ferrari beat us fair and square

29 Mar 2015

Mercedes were powerless to prevent a two-stopping Sebastian Vettel from romping to his first victory for Ferrari in Malaysia. But while the Silver Arrows opted for three-stops, their head of motorsport Toto Wolff insists that Ferrari's pace, rather than strategy, was to credit for their triumph. A bad day for Mercedes, perhaps - but according to Wolff a good day for Formula One racing...

Q: Toto, did Ferrari win the race or did Mercedes lose it?

Toto Wolff: Well, Ferrari deserved to win today. So they've won the race! Sebastian did a fantastic job and they executed the strategy in the right way - and it is fantastic for Formula One after all the talk about a boring race in Melbourne, and that Mercedes would run away with the championship. Here you had a sizzling race! We saw on Friday that Kimi's long runs were impressive, which makes me believe that it was the best long run on the weekend up until the race. My guess is that we couldn't have matched the long run pace of Ferrari today on the option tyres. Lewis' tyres were finished after 14 or 15 laps - they were able to do much more.  So we were pretty sure that a three-stop strategy was the right call and I doubt that we could have pulled it off with only two stops.

Q: Does Ferrari's pace worry you for the races ahead? 

TW: Yes, that is worrying. Especially if you have the kind of track temperatures that we had today. They have been able to go faster than us over the long runs, so we need to analyse why that was the case. It clearly shows that this year is not going to be an easy one for us - gone are the illusions of a walk in the park!

Q: Why is it that in Melbourne you looked unbeatable, and yet here you were suddenly second fastest?

TW: The conditions here were completely different. Remember, last year in Malaysia we also struggled against Daniel Ricciardo in the race, so these are not our conditions - this extremely high tarmac and ambient temperature. Probably we were a bit too aggressive on set-ups that pushed us into the direction of three stops - all the algorithms showed that this was the right way to go. But we got stuck in traffic and damaged the tyres following cars, and there you have it. 

Q: You had a very early first stop after five laps - is that a regret in hindsight?

TW: Afterwards you are always smarter! But we took this decision all together. We haven't made any strategic mistakes in the last one and a half to two years, so it doesn't make sense to point a finger at a single event. We need to find out why we've been struggling on the long runs in these hot conditions. This is the main thing we have to look at in my viewpoint.

Q: Did you expect Ferrari to catch up so massively in these last couple of weeks?

TW: No, we definitely did not expect it to happen at that pace. We were pretty dominant in Melbourne. We are always a bit sceptical about our own advantage - that's why we believe that you always have to keep sharp and keep developing in order not to be caught up - and then in two weeks you are actually caught up by a Ferrari. We lost the race fair and square! Yes, it was a surprise, but it was also a wake-up call. Which is good!

Q: What do you expect then for China?

TW: If I was to be optimistic I would say that Malaysia was difficult last year and it continued to be this year as the temperatures are the same. We suffered from these temperatures, so there you have your result. But that would be pretty naive: Ferrari have done a good job. They have a good engine, a good car and great drivers, so we will have to sit down in the next days to analyse the situation and see where we have to improve and probably take some developments forward. We need to increase the pace of our development.

Q: At mid-distance the team told both drivers that they were on target for a one-two victory. That was all gone in the second part of the race. Where did the confidence for such a message come from?

TW: Today strategies are no longer gut decisions but algorithm and scientific research. We have the best guy in the paddock in terms of strategy, and today we relied on the information we collected over the weekend. So we were right about our own pace - just not about the pace of the Ferrari.

Q: When he realised what the outcome of the race would likely be, Lewis got a bit bugged out in his radio conversations telling his engineer: ‘don't talk to me in the corner'...

TW: Lewis was not bugged out. This race was very difficult to read from a driver's perspective with so many stops and then realising that your main competitor was on a completely different strategy that seemed to pan out - that is of course an irritation. And we weren't really good on radio messaging today! (laughs) There were a couple of wired calls!

Q: Bernie Ecclestone said yesterday that he is certain that Lewis will win his third title. But now everything has been blown wide open, and Ferrari don't look like one-hit wonders...

TW: That is Formula One at it's best: the speed of development is amazing. Now we have to work to turn things around again. It was always clear that the winning streak wasn't going on forever! We have been beaten fair and square today!