The thoughts of Toto


As his team contemplates its fourth successive 1-2, the first time this has been achieved since late 2002, Toto Wolff talks about two of the issues currently grabbing the headlines.

While China was nowhere near as frantic as Bahrain, the fact is that we are likely to see further wheel-to-wheel battles between Brackley teammates, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and with the added pressure of the media attempting to stir the pot one has to wonder how the German team will keep it under control.

"The interesting thing for us within the team is to see how different they are in their approach but still how closely matched they are on the track," says Wolff. "This is why it's always dangerous to talk one driver up over another.

"I think we will see a constant battle between the two throughout the season," he continues, "with one having the edge over the other at certain times but the balance changing all the time. Lewis, for example, was in a league of his own during qualifying in China whereas Nico was a little unlucky during that session: experiencing problems with his steering wheel and brakes and being on the back foot for the race. It turned out to be a fantastic weekend overall for Lewis with the win but the situation could just as easily turn around at the next race.

"This is what makes it so exciting for us: they keep pushing each other and raising the level at every opportunity."

As for their approach to the job...

"You can see it everywhere because there are differences in the character and personality," he replies. "How should the perfect race driver be? You can't take the approach of one and combine it with the other, any more than you can say one is better than the other.

"To put drivers within a certain box is unfair. We take just as much enjoyment from both and we learn just as much from both. From a team perspective, it's an important part of our job to give them the right environment and protect them in such a way as to allow them to perform to the best of their abilities as individuals."

Currently the German team enjoys a clear advantage and is therefore able - much to the delight of us all - to allow its drivers to fight. However, for how long can this be allowed to happen?

"Bahrain was a very unique scenario as our package worked very well," Wolff admits. "We had quite a significant competitive advantage there, so it was easier to take a decision for the sake of the racing as there was quite a margin to the cars behind.

"The narrower that gap becomes, the tougher the decision gets. Our number one rule is that a driver's team-mate is not their main competitor: the opposition is. There might be situations in a race where that fact must be taken into consideration because you cannot afford to lose time when a rival team is right on your back."

Away from the heat of the track the other issue dominating the sport, as ever, is money. As in the real world, there is a massive gap between the haves and have nots in the F1 paddock and a number of teams are under threat due to rising costs and the continued failure to find a way of controlling them.

Wolff appears to have changed his mind on the whole issue of cost control ever since he left Williams for Mercedes.

"Personally, I am in favour of a cost cap," he says. "However, as a team we have realised that some of the larger outfits on the grid could not, or would not, go down that route. Ferrari is a good example. They have all of their operations – both motorsport and road car production – under one entity, making it difficult to screen everything. It would not make sense for us to push against two or three of the big teams for the sake of the principle of a cost cap. It is, however, worth following these discussions up by exploring methods that work for everybody.

"This is why reviewing the technical and sporting regulations is the right way to go for the time being and we have seen in the past that this can work. Significant restrictions on testing are a prime example and we are all working together to find the best solutions.

"Again, as a team we are in favour of a cost cap or ceiling: both to avoid a spending war between the biggest outfits and also to reduce the gap throughout the grid in this respect.

Asked how regulatory control, as opposed to an outright cost cap, might prove more effective, Wolff replies: "Engineers are always going to find loopholes: if something is reduced on the left, possibilities will be found on the right. This is why the concept of a cost cap would be a difficult one to implement and police.

"Going back to previous changes to the sporting and technical regulations, restrictions on testing made sense. Then there have also been initiatives such as curfews and the parc ferme rule. At the time, people were complaining: saying that the cars needed to be worked on overnight or they would be unsafe to race. But we've seen that everything has worked very well under these conditions. We have seen clear projects and processes through which costs can be reduced. Shipping parts both morning and evening throughout a race weekend via overnight flights is one such procedure that doesn't make any sense. 24 hour shifts are another example and there are many more.

"We'll continue to analyse these areas, discuss them with Charlie Whiting and put our heads together in the forthcoming Strategy Group meetings."

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Published: 25/04/2014
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