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Exclusive Q&A - Wolff on Red Bull, engines, Lewis & more

22 Sep 2015

As head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff has helped lead the German marque to the forefront of F1 racing, their team dominating in a way few could have imagined a couple of seasons ago. In an exclusive interview with Formula1.com, Wolff discusses what it’s like to have the power unit, the success, and the driver that everyone wants…

Q: Toto, the Mercedes engine is the benchmark and the one everyone wants - including Red Bull Racing. We recently saw Helmut Marko and Christian Horner pulling long faces when they realised they won't be getting their hands on it. Why is that?

Toto Wolff: We decided with our board that we as an engine supplier - and as a team - have worked hard and long to achieve the success we have today, after taking the decision to enter the sport again as a works team in 2010. Therefore we decided two weeks ago against exploring an engine supply to Red Bull. We wish to continue with our model to support independent, privateer racing teams - and to respect the relationships we already have in place with our customers - alongside our primary focus on the Mercedes works team.

Q: Right now engines are a factor that could help decide the future of Formula One racing as we know it. Why is it so difficult for everyone involved to come to some kind of understanding for the best of the sport?

TW: This is called motor racing - that means that there is a motor that is an important factor. There have been many people - like even Mr Ferrari himself - who said that F1 is mainly about the engine. Recently, it was more an aerodynamic formula - but now we are back to a situation where the engine also plays an important role.

Q: So what we have seen since last year is a swing back from a more aero-orientated formula to a more engine-dominated sport?

TW: Actually both sides are important today: you need a strong reliable engine and a car that generates good downforce. One without the other doesn’t work.

Q: It is understood that you were the driving force behind saying no to Red Bull. Is that so - or was it a unanimous decision by the board?

TW: I have never hidden my opinion. But we take decisions collectively and objectively, evaluating all the pros and cons, and not as individuals.

Q: Is this the opinion of the petrol head Toto Wolff or the entrepreneur Toto Wolff?

TW: It is the opinion of somebody who is responsible for the Mercedes motorsport program, responsible for 1,200 employees and who also has the responsibility to represent the Mercedes-Benz brand in the right way in Formula One‎ - and to make sure it is represented in the right way by others, too. Full stop!

Q: When hearing that Williams ‘hope’ to get the new-spec Mercedes engine by the end of the year, does that mean it’s the Mercedes works team first and the rest have to queue up?

TW: No. We have the philosophy of supplying the same specification of engines to all. There might be exceptional situations, like the one in Monza recently, where we carry out development work that needs to be checked on track - and therefore the supply of parts is very difficult.

Q: So what you are saying is that in Monza you ran an engine spec that could have backfired?

TW: Yes, you saw that on Nico’s (Rosberg) car, so I am not sure if our customers would have been happy with a car stopping because they ran a development engine!

Q: The new Haas team were also negotiating with Mercedes for an engine deal, but decided that Ferrari was the better option for them. Has Mercedes no interest in connecting with an American team?

TW: We decided against the deal, as we want to concentrate on our main focus - on our number-one objective - and that is the works Mercedes-Benz F1 Team. Every dilution would have harmed our main goal and that is to win races and championships. Haas is a cooperation partner with Ferrari and we would never interfere with a cooperation that hasn’t even started on track.

Q: Mercedes have something like 1,200 people on the payroll. Haas believe they can do it with 200 on a ‘semi-customer car’ basis. And Flavio Briatore thinks it is possible to run a team with 40 people as full customer team. What is a sensible headcount for a team that wants to succeed? 1,200 and 40 are very different numbers…

TW: Ha, and if you ask other people in the paddock they would come up with other figures. I don’t want to add to this discussion.

Q: Lewis Hamilton looks hell bent on winning the title again. Is Nico Rosberg left stranded by Lewis’s determination?

TW: No. Both are committed to the title. But Lewis has a great momentum and is in the form of his life. You can read that from his results.

Q: With your background in evaluating drivers, do you share the opinion of many that Fernando Alonso is still the best driver on the grid? Given the fact that your two guys are dominating the championship for the second year in a row…

TW: I have to disappoint: I think that no one really understands how a driver functions. At best you can see in a junior driver if he is fit for F1 - but you can never predict how he performs. I have seen promising drivers who have never pulled it off and I have seen others where you were not sure and then suddenly they made a quantum leap. Right now in F1 I would find it hard to say who is the best driver. I can only give you my standard reply: the two we have are among the best ones. Lewis in his form is probably now the best driver in F1 - when you look at the stopwatch. That is a proven fact.

Q: When you say that Lewis is in the form of his life, it obviously takes a special environment to get him there. What’s your guess on how this is working?

TW: He knows exactly what he needs - what environment he needs to be in a happy life. He organizes his surroundings to his liking and the results speak for him understanding what he needs.

Q: Now you know that his lifestyle works for him, but were there worries at the beginning?

TW: A part of my role is like that of a football trainer: you have to understand what kind of environment the driver needs. Some do need stable surroundings, some need a creative environment, and others a permanently changing environment - and once you’ve found out how he ticks you walk that avenue with him. Both our guys are in a phase of their career where they exactly know what is good for them and what to stay aware of.

Q: What is your guess - at which race will Lewis win the championship?

TW: I am not in the guessing business. He will have won the title when he has scored more points than all the others. All these calculations that are in the air right now are totally hypothetical.

Q: What will another title do to Lewis?

TW: He will take satisfaction out of it…

Q: …and allow him to walk on water?

TW: I haven’t happened to meet anybody who could walk on water! (laughs)