“We hope we that we have kept the best of the diva and got rid of the other qualities.”
Toto Wolff launched his team’s new Mercedes F1 car at Silverstone today, describing his team as being ‘flat out’ to try to win a fifth consecutive world championship.
Describing his lead driver Lewis Hamilton as ‘the personalisation of hunger’ he said that the 33 year old has huge motivation to win his fifth world title and thereby equal Mercedes 1950s hero Juan Manuel Fangio, despite all the success of the last few years.
“Being up there with Fangio, that is quite an exciting prospect,” said Hamilton, who said that he expects a tighter fight with Ferrari and especially Sebastian Vettel.
“Last year was my best season, performance wise,” he said. “How do I top that?”
As for the future, Hamilton is expected to agree a new contract with the team “in the next few weeks” according to Wolff. There were suggestions last year that it could be worth around $50m a year, but that was before Max Verstappen put his name to a long contract with Red Bull Racing.
“This is my sixth season with the team and it’s crazy that it’s been that long,” said Hamilton. “It’s great to see the development of the car. It’s a work of art. I’m in awe of the team.”
On his new contract he said that he has been in regular consultation with Wolff and that there is nowhere else he wants to drive. “We are committed to each other it’s just the details. Hopefully we will have it all done by the start of the season,” he said.
“In the six years I’ve been here I have not spoken to any other team,” he added. “We made it clear that if I was to look at my other options, I would inform them.”
Hamilton said that he had been instrumental in concluding the sponsorship deal with clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger; it sounds like he will be doing personal projects with them.
Describing the car as a “new diva” he said that the goal was for the new Mercedes to build on the strengths of the 2017 car while losing some of its ‘diva’ qualities which saw it underperform on some tracks. The car doesn’t at first glance appear to have any radical design departures form the 2017 model.
There were very strong tracks for the car last year and others where the car struggled, like Bahrain and Hungary.
Hamilton said that he and Valtteri Bottas had input on the development of the 2018 car, but that it had not gone away from Hamilton’s style. He regretted that F1 cars are now around 800kgs, with the driver on board.
He said that he preferred the lighter, more nimble cars of the past.
Mercedes have been the team to beat since the dawn of the 2014 hybrid turbo era, but last year Ferrari came close, leading the world championship until the autumn.
We have seen several teams picking up design cues from the Ferrari, especially around the front of the side pods and the leading edge of the floor. The Ferrari was more easily able to follow other cars than the Mercedes while keeping everything cool and we can see that the world champion team have done a lot of work in the area around the entry to the side pods. The car also seems to have the front suspension mounted quite high, as with the Red Bull.
Wolff refused to explore who the main title rivals will be. He said he had expected Red Bull to be the main rivals last season, but instead it was Ferrari.
He added that he expected the main engine rivals to be close on performance to the Mercedes, adding that he understood that the new Honda F1 engine, “will close the gap; I hear they had a good shakedown.”
The Austrian was outspoken when it came to the most noticeable item on the new car; Wolff said he is not impressed with the halo, “If you give me a chainsaw I would take it off. We must look after the drivers’ safety but it’s not aesthetically pleasing. This is an F1 car.”
Hamilton was more conciliatory and said that the halo was ‘the new world’ and that everyone would get used to it.
Wolff said that he has high expectations of Valtteri Bottas this season and identified mastery of the tyres as the main thing he needed to work on to get the most from the car. The Finn, who won the final Grand Prix of 2017 in Abu Dhabi, was given the honour of driving the first laps with the new car early on Thursday morning for filming purposes and shakedown, before the start of the press launch event.
Mercedes also planned to take the unusual step of showing a live stream of the Ferrari online launch at 2pm UK time in the Silverstone media centre, interrupting their programme of interviews with senior team personnel to do so.
What do you think of the new Mercedes F1 car? How do you think they will do this season, still the team to beat? Leave your comments below