With his team leading the Constructors’ World Championship after six wins in seven races and his drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton first and second in the drivers’ standings, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has every reason to feel pleased after seven of the 19 rounds.
And yet the technical problems which affected both Mercedes cars in Canada shows that there is a potential chink in the armour while the bad blood between the drivers in Monaco showed that it won’t be all plain sailing this year.
Today a small group of Spanish journalists visited the Mercedes F1 factory in Brackley, England and had the opportunity to conduct and open Q&A session with Wolff.
Our reporter Tabatha Valls Halling was among them. Here is what the Mercedes team boss had to say:
How much did you worry during the race in Canada?
“You get used to winning pretty quickly. It almost became a normality to win the race or finish 1-2, but what happened to us in Canada made us realise that we couldn’t continue winning forever. There was always going to be a race that we weren’t going to win or finish 1-2 because of external circumstances, accidents or reliability issues.
“The thought we had instantly on Sunday in Canada was that we were going to immediately lose both cars. It was a shock. We got the call from Lewis over the radio saying that he had no power, and 20 seconds later we got that same call from Nico. It’s then when you realize that we could be losing both cars at the same time. This hadn’t crossed my mind before last week… Without counting the thought of them both crashing at Turn 1. It was a good wake-up call for us.”
Are your drivers really at war with each other?
“There’s always going to be a war between the drivers because you need to beat your team-mate – he’s the one who is between you and your successful career. If your team-mate beats you, your market value deteriorates. You can have a war which is detrimental to the team, one where the drivers are clashing with each other, not speaking to each other, damaging the spirit in the team, damaging the brand because they behave in an arrogant way in front of the media… Or it can be a very subtle war, where they just want to beat each other and get any possible advantage throughout the whole of the weekend. What we see, what the media see, is a show.
“They are not friends and I don’t think they’ve ever been friends. Lewis and Nico are colleagues. They try to learn from each other, get motivated, but their number one priority is to beat their team-mate. We can say that the team comes first, that we need to win the Constructors’ Championship over and over again and the drivers will say that the team comes first, but the truth is that they don’t give a shit. It’s about winning the Drivers’ Championship, and this is where we need to manage them in the right way, reminding them what’s important for us. But it’s not always easy.”
How different are the two drivers from each other?
“Lewis and Nico have very different personalities. They have a past together, they’ve raced in karting in the same team and spent holidays together as kids, but they were very competitive since the beginning and in terms of personality they are very different. They need different life set-ups in order to function well.
“Nico needs a structured life, he’s very precise with his planning and very diligent with how he acts. His whole life is very structured.
“Lewis is a driving genius who has increased his level of performance because he’s raised his professionalism and approach. Nevertheless, what he needs in order to function properly is to feel comfortable in his life, and he feels comfortable by travelling, perusing his hobbies and many aspects of life which are different to F1. This is not detrimental to his job as a race driver; Lewis doesn’t go partying, or drinking; he’s very precise and knows what he wants. The Lewis you see on track today is completely different to what he was before.
“During the weekend there’s no noise or people around him any more.”
Is that as a result of your decisions?
“No, it was his decision. We spent some time talking to him and questioned if it was right for him to have so many people around him as well as the dogs… He needs to understand what is good for him. At a certain stage in his life that was good for him.”
Are they free to race each other throughout the entire season?
“It’s very difficult because we let them fight unless it’s a nasty fight. We are sharing data and they must be transparent with each other. There can’t be any dirty moves. What happened a few years ago with Lewis and Fernando at McLaren is unacceptable in our team and would not happen, there would be severe consequences if that happened.
“Nevertheless, they are always trying to find that tiny little advantage in order to beat each other, so now we let them race, but there could well be a certain stage during the season where we say we cannot do this any more. We let them race in Canada, where we lost one car and the second nearly retired and we still don’t know exactly 100% why.
“So if we find out that racing at the highest level is detrimental to our campaign, it could well be that we decide to take a step back. But this is a constant dynamic process that we analyse every week. It’s not a general principal of saying let’s let them race or let’s have team orders, it’s something that we are thinking about all the time.”