Mercedes Benz boss Toto Wolff has spoken this week in an interview about his conflict regarding the idea of supplying engines to Red Bull and his thoughts as mentor to Valtteri Bottas on whether the Finn will move to Ferrari.
The 43 year old Austrian, at the helm of the team for almost two and a half years, has been approached by Red Bull on several occasions as they look to find a competitive solution to their engine supply problems. Their very public fall out with Renault and the expectation that Renault will have its own works team soon, possibly through the acquisition of Lotus, means that Red Bull are getting desperate to find an engine with which they can compete.
“If I wear my Mercedes Benz motorsport boss’ hat and think about what is in the best interests of F1, then I have to say it’s (a Red Bull engine supply) an interesting option because it it would link us to a brand that has huge appeal among the young and it’s a winning brand,” Wolff told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“However, speaking as the boss of a rival F1 team, I have to say that it’s not ideal to strengthen one of your main competitors which knows how to make winning racing cars.”
It would indeed be awkward for Mercedes’ competition department to explain to the board why they were being beaten by a customer team, if that turned out to be the scenario. It would, however, be highly unusual because a customer engined team has never beaten a works team on a sustained basis.
But looking at the landscape of the current engine manufacturers active in F1 there seems little alternative but for Red Bull to work with either Mercedes or Ferrari and that means both sides accepting that there will be some risk in the enterprise.
Red Bull is more highly funded and more competent than any ‘customer’ team in recent history, although one could look at McLaren from 2010 to last year as a ‘customer’ team of Mercedes and for the early years of that arrangement they were beating the works team, so there is a precedent. However at that time Mercedes F1 team was building up to its current level. It would be hard to justify the expense of maintaining the Silver Arrows if the cars were losing to a Red Bull with the same engine.
Wolff notes the improvement in the reliability of the Mercedes package this year, which has allowed them to be ahead on last year’s points tally after 10 races. They have 383 points, compared to 366 last year, with double points finishes in every round.
“The quality control department deserves a lot of credit” he says. ” In 2013 we had 70% reliability, last year it was 80% and this year so far it’s 92%.”
On Bottas and the rumours of his transfer to Ferrari, Wolff says he can’t see any reason why the Finn, in whose career he has invested since junior formulae, should leave Williams,
“It makes sense that Williams, which has invested in him and taken the risk of taking him when he was young, has not yet had value from him, so can get that by selling him to another team. He’s a great lad who can be an asset to any team but Williams is the third force of this championship it aspires to reach the podium at every race and I cannot see any reason why he should leave.”
Wolff also defends Hamilton’s erratic performance in Hungary, ” In the previous 9 races Lewis didn’t make mistakes. It can happen. And he wasn’t the only one to make mistakes; the team, Rosberg too made mistakes.”
Hamilton has been partying in the Caribbean with pop star Rihanna, all widely chronicled in photos and Wolff notes that, “In these holiday weeks all of us have the right to be left in pace. Lewis is a veteran and knows what he can and cannot do.”
Mercedes ended the first half of the season with two poor starts in Silverstone and Hungary. Wolff says he has no concerns about the change in regulations, obliging the drivers to prepare the clutch themselves from Spa onwards for the starts, “Our team has always been good at reacting to new regulations,” he says. ” In general though I agree with this decision because the starts should be in the hands of the drivers. At least this way we will have an end to the talk that a good start is down to the driver and a bad one is down to the computer.”
Wolff notes that the team will decide early next week whether to bring the updated Mercedes power unit, using some of its development ‘tokens’ to Spa, or whether to wait for Monza. Both are power hungry circuits where in the past a team would normally schedule to have a new engine for each for maximum performance. Mercedes have had good reliability so far and will want to be assured that their race engines, in the car since Round 7, will have no problems reaching the chequered flag in Spa. If they have doubts, they’ll bring the new units.
The holiday period finds Toto and Susie Wolff on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, where he was unable to take part in activities last year as he was nursing injuries from his notorious cycling accident.
This year his wife Susie has issued an amusing tweet on the subject (above). We trust he will be in one piece at Spa next week…