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Toto Wolff Q&A: Title race will go down to the wire

25 Jul 2016

A one-two in Hungary was the perfect result for Mercedes, but it was not without controversy. As Lewis Hamilton finally wrested the championship lead from Nico Rosberg, team boss Toto Wolff reflects on the battle between the two for the drivers' crown, as well as the threat posed by the ever-improving Red Bull...

Q: Toto, Mercedes are winning everything, but each weekend also raises questions. Take Silverstone, and qualifying here in Hungary. Is that because the sport is over-regulated or because Mercedes are sailing close to the wind?

Toto Wolff: Everybody complained that Formula One is too boring and we just try to add spice to it! (laughs) And we do - so every Monday we ask for more TV money because we add to the excitement! We need stomach pills on the pit wall to survive this permanent suspense, just to silence all the talk about boring dominance. We have more stress and then it is only fair to have good results.

Q: So it is all for the sake of the show?

TW: Of course. We know what is expected in entertainment! (laughs)

Q: Your two drivers seemed to be in a bit of a disagreement about what you should or shouldn’t do under yellow flags. This could be quite significant in future battles for pole position…

TW: The rules are the rules and Nico complied one hundred percent. He gave it a big lift under yellow and that is enough. Full stop. Yes, there are a lot of rules and what we should look for is to simplify the rules and make it less. For me it was okay what happened in qualifying.

Q: What expectations did you have for the Hungary race? Were you predicting more competition than you had in Monaco?

TW: Taking into account that Budapest wasn’t a track where we have been good in the last couple of years, and if you had characterized the track you maybe would come to the conclusion that it is more of a Red Bull track, or maybe a Ferrari track. So with our result I would say that we’ve progressed overall in the package: chassis, engine combination - and that materialized in Silverstone and now here. Monaco was a bit different. Red Bull, due to the character of their car, are really good in wet conditions, so it was great to show the performance that we did here on Saturday and Sunday. I think this could translate into the fact that we should look good for the rest of the season, as most of the teams have already switched to the 2017 developments.

Q: You probably thought that Red Bull - due to the characteristics of the track - were more of a threat to you. Is there anything that you see that Red Bull haven’t been able to maximise?

TW: I have no idea what they do. We have to look at ourselves and we are very honest as to where we can improve. It is a constant battle to make the team, the car, everything better, to optimize everything, and as this here was not a great moment for us in past years, we tried to put a car on the track here that would be competitive. We are lucky not to have to focus too much on how the car performs on a certain track - we are good on every layout so far this season. And that is promising for the next 11 races considering that there is no more development.

Q: Were you surprised that Daniel Ricciardo pitted so early for his first stop?

TW: It was clear that they had to do something different - sticking to traditional behaviour wouldn’t win the race and that is what they tried. It was quite a gamble, as on the soft tyres you usually do not go 33 laps, but from their position it made perfect sense if they wanted to come out better.

Q: Why, when there are heated moments, does Lewis always seem to come out better? Since Barcelona he's bagged 48 more points than Nico…

TW: I don’t think that you can see a pattern there. We've had very open discussions with the two of them for four years now and the good thing about the two is that each of them concentrates on his own strengths. A couple of races go towards one then the tide turns. Just look back at the end of last season when Nico had a winning streak and carried the momentum into this season. When he was constantly outperforming Lewis everybody spoke about the ‘new Nico’. Now the tide has turned - but that has nothing to do with a change in performance.

Q: In terms of Nico’s title ambitions, would you say he is in a difficult phase and that it will be hard for him to recover?

TW: No, because at the beginning of the season he won so many points against Lewis, so it swings in both directions. And in that stage right now it is important to finish. It is about avoiding mistakes. DNFs very likely can cost you the championship. My gut feeling is that the championship is going to the very last race.

Q: Now that Lewis is leading the championship, will that change anything in the way you manage the engine penalty that is looming for him?

TW: First of all, a championship lead in mid season is not important. You have to fight every race weekend and at the very last race you can start counting. In terms of the engine penalty, we want to wait as long as possible, until the moment when we can judge with how many engine and engine components we can go until the end, and then choose a track where the penalty is not as harsh for him. That decision we haven’t made. We will wait until after the German Grand Prix and then it will be reassessed. 

Q: When you say the championship battle will go down to the very last race, does that battle include only your two drivers, or do you see anybody else on the horizon?

TW: I think if it is just only you, that is the attitude that will lead to defeat. You need to see the threat and we have to be aware that at any given track anybody could do a better job. But you also have to see that next season is the real issue. Now we have to keep our level towards the others and have a firm eye on 2017.