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Toto Wolff Q&A: First corner damage cost Hamilton a second a lap

03 Apr 2016

After a dreadful start in Australia two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton struggled off the line again in Bahrain on Sunday, putting him on a collision course with Valtteri Bottas at the first corner. After the race, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff discussed Hamilton’s getaway, and explained why the world champion was never likely to be able to challenge Nico Rosberg for victory after the first turn…

Q: Toto, Lewis made a poor start for the second race in a row. Is there a pattern emerging? What do you make out of that?

Toto Wolff: We’ve changed the regulations to give more variability to the start and not calibrating it perfectly from the pits – and this is what you can see now with the single hand clutch. This year we will see good starts and bad starts – we’ve also seen that with the Ferraris today who started almost perfectly two weeks ago and didn’t go well at all today. But for us we will have to analyse what happened. In my opinion our two starts were not particularly bad – it was a bit of a reaction time – but to say what really happened we will have to see in the data.

Q: When looking back at Melbourne – and the clutch issues – have you been working on it since?

TW: Well, I think it is more of a hardware issue than just a control electronics problem and you can’t solve that from one race to the other. We are working on it to try and sort it out: how we calibrate them and how the drivers use them (the clutches) needs to be optimised. Obviously that will need a bit of time.

Q: Is Nico doing anything differently to Lewis in this clutch matter?

TW: I think not. It is more random. Look at Nico’s start into the formation lap: by mistake he chose second gear! Such incidents are part of the new rules.

Q: Was the difference in starts of Nico and Lewis purely down to reaction time?

TW: I don’t know. All we know is that there were no major issues on the car and that both starts were average. That is all I can say at the moment.

Q: Was there a strategy to get Lewis back to the front again?

TW: Yes, but the interesting thing was that the medium tyres didn’t work at all in the race. We didn’t expect that. The car was almost one second down on downforce so there was not really a way of closing the gap to Kimi on the same tyre. So keeping him out there would have given us a chance in case of a safety car. That would have been the only chance to make good seconds up.

Q: Was that all down to the contact with Valterri Bottas on lap one? Was the floor seriously damaged?

TW: Yes the floor was damaged – we lost some bits as well on the front wing but the major damage was on the floor.

Q: How much did that cost in terms of performance?

TW: My guess is one second (per lap). It was really substantial.

Q: What have you learned about the real pace of Mercedes and Ferrari today? Towards the end the gap between Kimi and Nico had narrowed to something like four seconds, but it was at times in the race as much as fifteen…

TW: Well, to be clear: we have seen that the Ferraris have been strong again this weekend - no doubt about that. But in our case when you are the leader with a good gap you would probably go for a more conservative pace – and that is what Nico did. Also strategy wise we took it a bit more conservatively as it made no sense to take any risks. Kimi undercut us twice and the undercut brings a big difference – two to three seconds on this track – and there you have it: the gap shrinks.

Q: How about the dynamics now in the team? Nico has won the first two races of this season – and overall five times in a row…

TW: Ha, after every race we have the discussion about dynamics or momentum – in one direction or the other! Clearly Nico has had a massive run! He has won the last five races and now is leading the championship – but Lewis was on pole position here. And without that collision with Valtteri things would have looked probably very different. So I would not want to say that the momentum is on one side.

Q: The incident with Valtteri – would you break that down to a normal race incident? We crave for overtaking action but are irritated when something happens in that course…

TW: Well, Valtteri was pretty far behind so I think his manoeuvre was a bit ambitious. So I would attribute the percentage of fault as to 80 percent on Valtteri’s side and 20 percent on Lewis’ side.

WATCH: First corner collision drops Hamilton back