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Toto Wolff Q&A: Engine mode problems stemmed from ‘messy’ Friday

19 Jun 2016

Mercedes came away with another victory on Sunday, but once again the team faced some troubling technical issues, with both Lewis Hamilton and, to a lesser extent, Nico Rosberg being slowed by engine mode issues. After the race the Silver Arrows’ motorsport chief Toto Wolff tried to clear up what happened…

Q: Toto, there seems to have been a setting issue on both cars. Can you explain what exactly was going on? And why Nico was able to cure the problem?

Toto Wolff: We had a configuration setting problem - an electronic setting problem - with engine modes. By regulation we are not allowed to tell the driver [how to fix the problem] - they needed to figure it out themselves. Nico was in the more fortunate situation that he did a switch change just before which kind of led him on the right path, so within half a lap he went back into the right mode. Lewis - because he didn’t have that right path - took a while to figure it out, something like 12 laps - and this for sure affected his race. Right now we don’t know how much it affected his race overall - we will analyse it when we are back in the factory - but from what we have seen I would estimate it at 0.2 seconds a lap. But for Lewis it must have felt much more, as in Turn 2 and 3 - where you expect the biggest boost - there simply was none, so subconsciously it must have felt like a lot more.

Q: Why were the settings wrong in the first place?

TW: Well, the settings were wrong because we had a messy Friday where we couldn’t configure it in the way we should have done, so everything was pre-set in the wrong way and it started to show a little bit earlier on Lewis’ car than on Nico’s car. Three laps earlier.

Q: Were the issues anything to do with the track layout? Or have you introduced a new mode?

TW: You are always trying to optimise the mode - and this was the optimisation! Unfortunately it didn’t work. It simply failed.

Q: There was the impression that Lewis had eventually figured out how to solve the issue because at one point he briefly got very fast - but then slowed down again. Was that the case?

TW: No. From the moment he got fast again the setting was fine. Why he got slow again he has to answer. Probably he figured out that the gap to the front was too big. That is the only explanation that I have. 

Q: There were quite a number of ‘angry’ drivers out there today because of the rules regarding how much information the teams can pass over the radio. Should that rule be changed again?

TW: I think at the heart of racing there should be drivers racing each other - that is my opinion. Today’s cars are very complicated - very sophisticated technology-wise - so it is not that I am complaining - quite the opposite, as it is the same for everybody. But I think that Ferrari had a similar issue so you can do two things: make the technology much less complicated - and I don’t think that this is the right direction - or just change the regulations so that you can communicate with the driver in case there is a problem. But right now it is how it is.

Q: Did you ask the FIA to get permission to tell Lewis what the problem is?

TW: Yes, we had a conversation with the FIA in order to find out what we were allowed to say or not - to get some guidance.

Q: Would more laps in the simulator have helped Lewis in this situation?

TW: Not at all! These processes are so complicated to find the right settings - you don’t find that in the simulator.

Q: At the start of the race everything seemed to be fine. Did both drivers change the mode and then the issues started - or did the issues start on their own?

TW: They were on different modes - that’s why it happened on Lewis’ car earlier than on Nico’s car. That’s all I can say right now.

Q: From qualifying onwards, Lewis struggled on this track. Do you know why?

TW: That only Lewis can answer. Once you are not in a rhythm on a street circuit it can go wrong. Then add a technical issue into this - then it all becomes a huge imponderability!