Wolff: I'm no diplomat

11/12/2017
NEWS STORY

While Friday's FIA Awards essentially wrapped up the 2017 season, this morning work will be continuing at the various factories as the teams prepare for next season.

And nowhere will the work rate be higher than at Brackley and Brixworth as Mercedes seeks to continue its domination of the sport.

While he has played the underdog card to the point of tedium, there is no arguing with the fact that Toto Wolff has built a very special operation.

However, in the same way he insists on playing down his team's superiority ahead of each race weekend which inevitably sees the Silvers Arrows crush the opposition into the dust, he also plays down his own significance.

With Lewis Hamilton widely seen as the 'rock star' at Mercedes and Niki Lauda the 'war horse', when asked if he sees himself as the 'work horse' he tells the official F1 website: "Ask Niki or Lewis!

"I cannot find a synonym that works for me," he adds. "And to be honest, and I am sorry to say it, I am no workhorse!"

Asked if he might then be seen as a diplomat, he says: "No such big word!

"You have to learn to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team," he continues. "Be like a professional football team that lets the ball play and not like a football team of six-year-olds who all run behind the same ball. It is about understanding your position and playing to the best of your abilities."

Diplomat or not, the Austrian needed to call on his special skill set at the end of 2016, having lost one driver and being aware that the other was far from happy.

"Every driver has the right to be upset when you lose a championship. You could not expect him to be all cheery when his team mate has just walked away with the title!

"Another factor, of course, was that the relationship between the two was not great. Frustration had built up over the season on Lewis's side, but not on the team side. Some of it was for very right reasons, but there are always two perspectives. Where it all changed for me was that meeting in the winter."

He is referring, of course, to the infamous 'kitchen meeting' with Hamilton, a no-holds barred 'clear the air' pow-wow which appeared to do the trick. However, when it is put to Wolff that the meeting was intended to calm the situation, he replies: "That sounds like a negative spin, but in fact it was a very positive thing.

"Yes, it was not an easy discussion, but since then we've grown stronger together. And no doubt it is a perfect match: we provide the best car on the grid and he provides the strongest driving. So yes, it works for both of us.

"We always honoured each other's performances. At every stage we were aware of the potential this alliance has. So, you might say that we knew that we wanted to make it work."

Asked if he and Hamilton are "easy forgivers", he admits: "It's nothing about forgiving. It is about accepting that somebody else has a different perspective and different opinion.

Sometimes all it takes is to agree that you disagree. And then move on. In any functioning relationship of mine it is never plain sailing. You grow in difficult moments – and that goes for him and myself.

Asked if the pair are now closer than before, he admits: "A million times closer."

Asked if, at any point, he feared losing the title to Ferrari this season, the Austrian admits: "Ferrari had a very strong start of the season. Their car was very fast from the get-go. We on the other hand started with a vicious diva and had to transform it into a diva that we could control. In the end we've won 12 races and Ferrari only five... so the diva is under control!"

Hamilton had previously warned that at some stage Ferrari would be a threat and that would be the point at which the team would need him.

"Yes, he said that and I thought: 'He might be right!' And he was right! Because the years 2014 to 2016 were outliers, you cannot sustain such dominance forever in a sport that is as competitive as Formula One."

Wolff's in-race reaction to certain situations is the stuff of legends, however, when asked if he ever resorts to prayer, in terms of the tyres or car reliability, he admits: "One of the least religious people I know is Niki, but sometimes in tricky situations he would pray in the garage: 'Dear Lord, please help us!' He is praying for the two of us. I sometimes tell him then: 'You are such an opportunist!'"

And looking ahead to 2018.

"Winning becomes more difficult with every single year. I guess we will see a fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing, and maybe McLaren-Renault will join us in the title fight.

"That is an exciting outlook for the fans. But, of course, we want to make the right calls over the winter. Minimize your mistakes, and then go racing. And if you win you know that you have done a good job!"

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Published: 11/12/2017
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