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Toto Wolff Q&A: Ricciardo's late pace staggering

18 Sep 2016

Nico Rosberg appeared set for a controlled victory in Singapore, only for the race to swing wildly as a gamble by Red Bull - and an incredible turn of pace by Daniel Ricciardo - forced the Silver Arrows onto the back foot. As Mercedes' head of motorsport Toto Wolff explains, it took the team somewhat by surprise - but the added pressure also made victory taste all the sweeter...

Q: Toto, when Daniel Ricciardo made his last stop, was your strategy suddenly up in smoke?

Toto Wolff: Well, I don't know exactly what the gap was before he pitted, but suddenly Daniel pulled out stunning laps and the gap shrunk to zero - so that left us with no choice than to make it to the end. 

Q: Had you been planning to do that before the stops?

TW: No! Because our statistical tool told us that we would still have seven seconds when pitting – and then in two to three laps Daniel was going 3.5 seconds faster and the algorithm showed 'no gap anymore'. That was some kind of wake-up call. That was the moment to decide if we want to push now and then pit or go conservative and conserve the tyres and the brakes and fight for the position. And that is what we decided in the end.

Q: How marginal were you with the brakes on both cars?

TW: We were very marginal. Straight from the beginning! But this is the name of the game in Singapore. I think you could hear laments about overheating brakes up and down the paddock. Maybe we took steps that caused problems right from the beginning, but we finished in P1 and P3 so the result justified the strategy that was taken.

Q: Originally Lewis was on a two-stop strategy. What made you change that?

TW: When we saw that Lewis had his brakes under control we knew that an undercut was possible. By undercutting Kimi we actually triggered the situation that Daniel pitted – and Nico couldn't! Because he would have won the race if we had pitted Nico. So it was a pretty edgy situation that in the end proved to be the right one.

Q: Were both drivers on the same brake system?

TW: Both drivers had exactly the same brake specifications. And both suffered right from the get go with brakes overheating. For most of the race Nico was running in cool air and was able to manage the brakes more easily.

Q: Is this the best Nico Rosberg you've ever seen?

TW: I have known Nico since 2013 and yes it is the best Nico Rosberg that I have ever seen since then.

Q: What was it about Nico this weekend? Did he change anything in what he was doing?

TW: We have a tendency to say Lewis has awesome pace and this is what we have seen with Nico this weekend. He was just blindingly fast in qualifying; he had a great start and controlled the pace. On the other hand Lewis didn't have a clean weekend. He was lacking laps in order to find out what the right set-up was so he could not set the direction and from there it went backwards.

Q: Is that a trend that we are seeing right now? Nico on top and Lewis suffering a bit?

TW: We don't have the tendency to talk about one of our drivers up and the other down. We have had these situations for three years since they are fighting for the title every year. We have seen these kinds of waves before. I just think back that - only a few weeks ago we were talking about Lewis's momentum, and suddenly we have Nico on the upswing again. In two weeks we will see if that changes again.

Q: At what moment did you think that Nico would win the race?

TW: It was a matter of deciding when we wanted him to push. We knew that we were marginal and the aim was to give him everything for the last three to four laps to stay ahead of Ricciardo. So we concentrated all the right engine modes for his last couple of laps so as to not bleed the battery out, but have the power to fight back. But then we were running in a bit of an unhappy situation with [Felipe] Massa and [Esteban] Gutierrez fighting for position. Interestingly Gutierrez makes it the same situation for everybody, as he doesn't help anybody to overtake! Honestly, there is a fight for the race win going on and then you have one guy cruising around and interfering in the race. And it always happens to be the same guy. We were shouting to Charlie (Whiting, FIA race director) - Felipe was getting out of the way but Esteban – who is a lovely boy – continued to cruise and was enjoying the gap he had made to Felipe.

Q: Last year you were nowhere in Singapore. Did you expect to bounce back so significantly on this track?

TW: I would say that today was F1 at its best - the whole race, not only us. Of course I am happy how we've bounced back from last year. Nowhere in 2015, and P1 and P3 today. We knew that it would never be easy with Red bull here and I have to take my hat off to the guys at Red Bull and for Daniel. He was always fast here but the lap that he pulled out after his last stop made life very difficult for us. I am very happy that we won but even if it had been the other way around I would have also been enthusiastic about the race.

Q: We have seen that your two drivers somehow live in phases. One time it is Nico who is on a winning streak, then Lewis, then it bounces back to Nico again. What does Lewis have to do to make it swing back again in his favour?

TW: The engine penalty in Monza was a sour situation for him there and this weekend he was caught on the back foot and he couldn't recover. And if your team mate is getting it so right it is difficult to get out from there again. But in two weeks there is the next chance!