Toto Wolff: “the margins at the front of the F1 field have shrunk”
Mercedes
Mercedes Ferrari
Posted By: Editor   |  20 Mar 2017   |  7:32 pm GMT  |  210 comments

As the Formula 1 circus jets off to Melbourne ahead of the first race of the 2017 season, Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff has expressed his belief that the gaps at the front of the field have closed up over the winter.

This season will be the first since F1 introduced new chassis regulations designed to make the cars faster, alongside the re-introduction of wider tyres to increasing grip levels and cornering speeds.

Throughout F1’s history, regulation changes have usually increased the margins between the teams as they offer an opportunity for different approaches. This has also often led to periods of catching up as rival squads try to develop their own versions of the innovations that prove to be most effective.

Valtteri Bottas

But following the two pre-season tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and an analysis of the race simulations completed by the teams during those sessions, it appears that the gaps at the front of the grid have actually closed up – particularly between Mercedes and Ferrari – ahead of the 2017 season.

This is because the Mercedes engine has maintained its place as the best power unit in F1, while the new aerodynamic rules have given Ferrari the chance to catch up with an aggressive car that is kind on its tyres during long runs.

Speaking ahead of next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, Wolff explained how Mercedes had approached the new rules and outlined its expectations for 2017, as well as his thoughts on the fight to be first on the grid in Melbourne.

Toto Wolff

He said: “We have tackled with determination the challenge of the new regulations. We have been very successful over the last three years through stable rules – but no team has ever maintained its success over such a big regulation change before. In a way, it’s just what the doctor ordered. To have such a challenge is good for the team.

“There is an art to managing expectations. You must not set them too low – but you must also keep them under control. With new regulations, everyone starts with zero points. It provides opportunities as well as risks for every team on the grid. You only need to look back to 2009 to see how unpredictable Formula 1 can be, with Brawn winning the Championship after being on the brink of extinction.

“We enter 2017 with that mindset. We take every one of our rivals seriously and respect every team’s ability to find that magic bullet. What we’ve seen from Barcelona is that the margins at the front of the field have shrunk. We’ll see how that pans out in Melbourne, because we still don’t know about the fuel loads, weights or power settings of the other cars.”

Ferrari

Wolff’s comments could well be an example of the art of managing expectations that he mentions, particularly if Ferrari really has produced a car that can challenge for the win next weekend. But they could also be interpreted as a warning that Mercedes did indeed mask its true performance in testing (which could also be said of Ferrari at times) and is still expecting to be F1’s dominant team.

Either way, we don’t have long to wait to find out.

Hamilton vs Bottas

Wolff also offered an early glimpse into the rapport between his new driver pairing – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton often had a strained and hyper competitive relationship with his former team-mate Nico Rosberg, who retired just five days after clinching the 2016 F1 world title late last year.

Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas

But Wolff believes Mercedes’ new line-up is “in a great place” early in their partnership after sharing the workload of developing the WO8 for half a day each across the eight days of winter testing.

He said: “Lewis and Valtteri are in a great place. They have a respectful and friendly relationship from what we’ve seen in our team briefings so far.

“It’s an exciting time for them because these new cars are a real physical challenge. Both felt from testing that the G-Forces are enormous and they are embracing the new challenge of F1 2017.”

What do you make of Wolff’s words? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

I can’t wait for FP2. FP1 doesn’t tell me much especially since I can’t get it in the US except maybe Austin.

2

If I have to bet money I would put them on SV. The battle will be mostly between Vet and Ham. The only risk they will face is that they will over do – crash because they REALLY want to win. But in my view this year cars fit more SV way of driving and Ferrari seems having put down a good car and most of all a great organization finally unleashed. Merc will be strong if they are able to fix the oversteer (rear suspension – the stored energy system they had in mind I think Ferrari trapped them with FIA letter). VB is strong but will take his time to fully integrate. KR will be there too, but I see him more a strategic / Lauda driver. RB MV and DR will bring fun: car seems good but again down on the engine department so far. They are very strong aggressive and smart.
Also … this year requires fitness preparation… will see who can last to the end.
Other teams are behind: FI a little ahead of Williams (for now) and Renault. TR looks great (but draggy very slow on straights). McLaren… Alonso (and his teammate is a very fast dude too)! If only Honda puts together an engine PU that allows them to fight so far they are in a nice car powered by a lawnmower …

3

Is Toto’s major in public relations?!
“Margins ve shrunk, rivals closed up, blah blah blah…”
Come this Saturday and if Lewis blows the whole grid by 0.5 s, am very curious what Toto is gonna say:
“Oh, that was just Lewis, not a car” “Margins really shrank, you all saw it in Q1 & Q2″…

4

SD, and if those margins have shrunk, what will you say?

5

Scott, please try and grow up,

6

Yeah I admit that one was very silly

7

Wouldn’t be surprised to see Ferrari take a few wins at the start of the season and then Mercedes will win the development war. Ferrari may lose their way without Allison to guide development of the car he conceived. Meanwhile Mercedes now know all Ferrari’s design secrets.

8

‘Meanwhile Mercedes now know all Ferrari’s design secrets.’

Conjecture?

9

You think Ferrari’s Technical Director until 9 months ago wouldn’t be privy to that kind of information?

10

Sorry to disappoint you but it is pretty well known by now that this Ferrari is NOT an Allison work, actually he was against it and unable / unwilling to work with the different departments, which were VERY frustrated with a different approach to work. He wasn’t just listening to them. Coordinator and creator of this car is Ferrari tech departments coordinated by Binotto and behind him there is Rory Byrne. You cannot develop a car whereas there is not a clear direction on development. Now their way of working is very similar to the way they were working with Byrne Brawn. So I do expect very quick developments actually from them as they were used in Schumi days.

11

correction chief designer is Simone Resta. Technical chief is Mattia Binotto. Rory Byrne is the Obi Wan Kenobi

12

I hope you are right, but I struggle to believe Allison had no part in the conception of this car.

13

Aelfwald: If Allison is so good why was the 2016 Ferrari so poor??

14

And BTW, I didn’t say Allison was “so good”, you’re making assumptions.

15

Seem to remember it was reasonabily competitive until Allison went on compassionate leave and they could develop it. Also have heard Ferrari was using those Haas wind tunnel hours in 2016 to design the SF70H, so maybe 2016 wasn’t Ferrari’s main focus.

16

how do you know who conceived/designed the car?

17

Wayne, STR started designing their 2017 in November 2015. Do you not think Ferrari would work to a similar timeline?

You obviously want to score pathetic kind of point, I’m not replying to you again. Take your point and stick it.

18

You think Ferrari hadn’t conceived their 2017 car by the time Allison left you don’t know much about F1.

19

… but aside from using sarcasm, you did not answer: how do you know who conceived/designed the car?

20

From what i read here and around, it appears that indeed he did not conceive the 2017 car. Unless “conceive” has some strange meaning for you.

21

As my grandmother would say, “From Toto’s mouth to God’s ears.”

22

You mean the webber who was going to beat vettel in 2010 until Redbull messed him up in the final race.He later turned a doormat to give vettel easy tittles from 2011 – 2013,in the ferocious Redbulls, the most dominant cars ever created in the history of F1.
Rosberg ,the second best driver behind Hamilton on the grid,was beaten, 2013,2014,2015 , until Hamilton’s campaign was littered with mechanical breakdowns. One more race and the herculean effort is achieved. No escape from reality.

23

‘2011 – 2013,in the ferocious Redbulls, the most dominant cars ever created in the history of F1.’

You might be stretching a bit there..

24

@ Nick H…you’ve got a trigger finger there hahaha I think that Insha should perhaps recast his comment re ‘the most dominant etc etc etc’.

25
Wilma the Great

You present Alternative Facts!

26
Clarks4WheelDrift

Toto Wolff says: “the margins at the front of the F1 field have shrunk”

Yet again, what I hear Toto Wolff say: “Blah, blah blah, spin, politics, blah blah”

Woe betide Mercedes if they have to crank their engine up from 85 to 90% to take pole; if they have to try harder to go from 51 wins from 59, to 71 wins from 79; if they don’t have their rogue driver deliberately backing into their world champion
driver to make the race for victory exciting…

The only thing that I would be interested to hear from Toto is if they decided to give all their customers identical engines, energy recovery gubbins and software as per the works team, so they weren’t monopolising our sport. Our sport that despite rule changes is completely dominated by the Merc works PU.

Anyway, on a brighter note, roll on the weekend, what tyre strategy will win Oz, ultra softs to pit first for the undercut?

27

Great analysis mate!
I guess all the F1 team bosses that chose him the best driver of 2016 should just keep quiet and let you make the calls.
Sorry, but who you are kidding, there is no one that understands a bit about F1 that would believe this type of statements?

28

@Ionut
And no one does. I wouldn’t even bother replying to such drivel😉

29
GPBackToAdelaide

James, do you know if there is any substance to the “oil burning” story raised recently, through a letter sent to the FIA by Red Bull? Mercedes seem to have been implicated in some type of “fuel boosting”. If it can be substantiated, surely this will be the biggest story of the season so far, but for some reason not much is being said.

30

So James Allison has bequeathed Ferrari his engineering trademarks ,as we saw with his lotus of 2012 : competitive speed, mechanical reliability, and tyre efficiency .Be in no doubt about it,that lotus of 2012,was a car capable of winning the tittle that year.It enabled Raikkonen to produce some decent performances, but both Lewis and Alonso, who would have dug up more performance out of the car,would have been better off with that lotus of 2012,rather than the cars they drove that year. And now Allison is at Mercedes. We may just have a repetition of 2007/2008 with regard to the cars competitiveness. Not long to find out.

31

Hmm, exactly what he said wouldn’t happen if we went along with the regulation changes. Strange, huh?

32

Ad long as PU stays, Mercedes advantage remains.

33

> Mercedes will win the Constructors Championship again this year..(and easily)

> Ferrari will get themselves in a bit of a muddle this year…they’ll tail off in the development race.

> RedBull will only become a serious threat to Mercedes when Renault provide them with their upgraded Power Unit in the 5th race of the season…(as stated by Renault already)

> Hamilton will win Driver’s Championship

…basically, an utterly predictable season…

34

@shane
Thanks! Now you’ve totally ruined my GP season. 👍🏻

35

@Shane – I am sure you are being Sarcastic, but not sure in which direction 😉

Are you a ‘bieliber’ or ‘dis-bieliber’, that is Not the question. What.. is a ‘beiliber’ – seems to be the more apt question! 😀

The season will be as the season will be – Que sera sera. Hope you and the rest of us here, have a wonderful year watching

36

Ferrari will find a way to cock it up when wins are possible and implode by Monza. Vettel will leave and Arrivabene axed.

37

It’ll be love or war at Ferrari by the end of the season…

38

Toto
Carrying on from where he left of last year😊
Let’s hope he’s not pulling our leg this time👍

39

Are you saying that Toto’s claims of competition hype are as pure as DRS is to passing? 🙂

40

@sebee
We’ll find out on Sunday my friend😄👍🏻

41

We won’t I am afraid. I have a feeling we’ll have more questions than answers after Oz.

I think Mercedes know winning this first race would be gutting to fan enthusiasm. They will hold back plenty and claim something trivial to turn down the cars, like a vibration in a crankshaft or some other excuse. They may even go deeper, like not winning first 3 races, then lighting it up after summer break.

42

they might even go further and forfeit the championship.

43

@sebee
Love your theories sebee😄.
You should be a writer😂

44

James, in the fiction section of course…

45

Why would anyone bother to watch an event they ‘know’ to be fixed? Especially someone who dislikes pretty much everything about the sport in question….

46

Proof of theory. 🙂

47

Fair enough I suppose….

48

Wise words, correct and respectful. Maybe even humble. It’s all very exciting at the moment and the tension is building up nicely. I just hope it’s not going to be a massive anticlimax but I’m sure it won’t be.

49

@jeroen
Toto has been wise,correct and respectful the last 3 years. And we’re still waiting for the others to catch up😉
Fun aside, just hoping Toto is not jesting again. We’ll soon find out🏁

50

“This is because the Mercedes engine has maintained its place as the best power unit in F1, while the new aerodynamic rules have given Ferrari the chance to catch up with an aggressive car that is kind on its tyres during long runs.”

It seems to me that Ferrari has made some progress on the engine front as well or am I missing something in that statement?

51

Wow! All atingle. Can’t wait for Friday.

52

I will only believe what toto says when the fuel is taken out off the car and strat mode is at its highest level.

Merc are fast how fast we will know in q3.

53

I believe absolutely nothing that wolff says. IMO none of the top three/four teams have actually tipped their hands. It is in wolff’s best interests to play down his teams prospects for various reasons. If another team were to exceed or even parallel the mercedes then he has a fallback position…’I told you so’. The fact that mercedes has totally dominated the series for three years in a row has lead to considerable dissatisfaction and possibly a loss of audience numbers. A fourth year will impact even more! I seriously think that they will further attempt to ‘muddy’ the waters by testing the field and once they have a handle on where the others are at they will try to stay just a whisker ahead to avoid the obvious. Of course it is possible that i am entirely wrong and they will not win a race in ’17! My forecasting is far from reliable haha.

54

Sounds about right to me…

55

It’s that tricky part of the season where Mercedes aren’t sure if they need to turn the car up to level 6 or 7. However, he understands that Mercedes doesn’t need to win first GP, and in fact it is best they don’t. So it has been decided cars will be set on level 6 and let the chips fall where they may.

56

Its who drives that Mercedes that makes the difference Sebee, not that spluttering wreck of an engine they have hidden under the bodywork.
To suggest otherwise is to irk the Faithull as they can’t drive their narrative of the greatest driver of all time being soley responsible for Mercs horrifying record these past 3 seasons.
Happens all the time when people bring up Mercedes dominance, wonder why?

57

Sarsippious, I assume you regard me as one of the faithful, could you point me in the direction of a comment I have made where I infer that Lewis is solely responsible for Merc’s success over the last three years. In the event of your inevitable failure to do that, a similar comment from anyone else will do.

58

Sebee, that’s great insider knowledge, we are lucky to have such an expert on this site….

59

Whatever Mercedes and Toto are selling I approach with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Why?

Because their F1 program is full of smoke and mirrors. And so, a good starting point with Toto is this: Whatever he says, the opposite is usually closer to the truth.

60

Sebee. I’m sure you are correct, after all you have an amazing record of accurately predicting the future…..

61

Well, I did predict Spain 2016 Mercedes crash. I predicted Mercedes wanted a German WDC. I predicted Mercedes wanted both drivers to win the WDC. I predicted MMC. I predicted Mercedes agreed to give up 3 GPs per season early in 2014 after it was clear they would level the field. (2016 only 2 happened because Australian GP fell back into their lap with a red flag and Mercedes got their free tire change. ) Mercedes were surrendering it in 2016, just like I have a feeling they will surrender the 2017 edition, conveniently.

62

Sebee, I really don’t recall you predicting Spain 16, was it a catch all Lewis and Nico will crash into each other this year, or more specific. either way of you make enough predictions then some will come true eventually, but I have to say your list of failures is rather longer than the the list of successes…

63

It’s my job to remember only the hits. Up to someone else to keep track of the misses.

But if I must, I’ll give you a hint to get you started. I also predicted Pascal will get the seat.

64

…but if Bottas is a non factor…

65

Lewis and Valtteri – Fire and Ice…I think it will be a great combo…

66

Not quite. Räikkönen is ice. Bottas is somekind of soft and warm. Like a hot water bottle.

67

There’s so much spin going on that the F1 teams better check their clutch bite!

68

These guys are just politicians spewing PR lingo. I wouldn’t put much trust into what they say.

69

Bring it on……………….

70
Stephenctaylor123

Certainly amongst the top 3 teams it will be close. However, James want to get your opinion on Sauber who in my opinion have scored a spectacular own goal by going with a year old PU . STR got away with that last year as they had budget to build a good midfield chassis -However Sauber chassis in years haven’t done that that great even with up to date Ferrari PU’s . I just imagine them just crawling round at the back (in comparison to the others of course) , including struggling McLaren . Wehrlein and Ericsson’s only way to measure how good a weekend is will be beating each other but very few others if any at all in a race. Have I got this right or wrong James?

71

I wouldn’t call it an own goal – Last year sure, but not this year.

Last year they had to compete with Manor for any prize money. Now with only ten teams, they can afford to trundle around at the back and still pick up some cash, and if they can actually beat McLaren so much the better for them. Combine that with the cash they might be saving by using old engines and it kind of starts to make sense.

Ideally they survive in this way long enough for Liberty to negotiate a new deal where the prize money is more evenly distributed, and then hopefully we’ll see them start to move back up the grid a bit.

It might be painful to watch right now, but I’d rather see Sauber at the back of the grid than not at all.

72

The most important activity for Toto, from amongst his many, many business responsibilities as team principal (no more team at Mercedes, Paddy Lowe gone, and Allison a subordinate, Niki acts as a credibility talisman for the often ridiculous stuff that Toto says), his main job is promoting the belief, regardless of whether it is true or not, in past fans and potential fans that there is competition!
“There is competition!”
We’ve heard that one before; and it turned out to be false, more than once.

Credibility talisman or not, I won’t believe it because Toto says it.

But maybe, this time, by random chance, and/or the inevitability of the end of dynasties, the competition will be better.
But I’m not betting on it.

73

Dean, a bit harsh on Toto isn’t it? There were many occasions last season when Ferrari looked to have good long run pace in practice, but then failed to deliver in the races. They should have won races last year, but didn’t because of strategic and driving errors, hardly Toto’s fault. A lot of the quotes about competition from the other teams is simply the Mercedes management guarding against complacency, if the team take their foot of the gas then that advantage they have earned will evaporate very quickly. Toto isn’t the only one to think that Ferrari are closer this year than last, should he be the only one to get criticised for saying so?

74

Tim: just commenting on key responsibilities of Tonto and the relative importnace of being honest (very low) in the execution of those business drivers.

75

You’ve noticed it too?

76

Tonto can waffle away as much as he like, come Sunday evening we’ll all have an idea of how the various teams rate. If, as he claims, Mercedes haven’t got the lead of previous years, he needs to make a better effort of keeping his No 1 driver happy. I’d suggest he tells Lauda to start thinking before talking about Mercedes looking for new drivers before the season starts.

Perhaps, Tonto will be busy attempting to discover where they can learn from Williams? Then again, Williams might be wondering why they employed Paddy Lowe, when they might not have needed his ‘expertise’.

77

Tonto
it’s good.

78

Insert Mercedes/Lone Ranger joke 🙂

79

Hahaha.

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