Toto Wolff, Mario Isola, Otmar Szafnauer, Franz Tost and Guenther Steiner sit down with the press in between Friday practice sessions in Germany.
TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – Toto WOLFF (Mercedes), Mario ISOLA (Pirelli), Otmar SZAFNAUER (Racing Point), Franz TOST (Toro Rosso), Guenther STEINER (Haas)
Q: Toto, you’re celebrating Mercedes’ 200th race this weekend, 125 years in motorsport. What do those stats mean to you, the boss, and do you have a favourite moment you can tell us about?
Toto WOLFF: The stats are not so interesting to me because it’s just numbers and it’s the past. But what it reminds you when you see all the photography and films that have been done of the old days is that the responsibility that we carry for the brand. Mercedes started in motorsport 125 years ago, lots of history has been created and that is a responsibility which we are carrying and representing that fantastic, almighty brand.
Q: You say there’s a responsibility, that brings pressure. What would it mean to win this race, given that you also have the title sponsorship of it.
TW: Well, from a calmer perspective, everything speaks against it. We are celebrating 125 years of motorsport; we are having a dedicated livery, we are wearing a different team kit tomorrow, and lots of activities around the track, all board members – or most of the board members present, so when you look at it from the point of car marque, this is one to lose for us. But the reality is different. It’s another race, we want to do particularly well here in Hockenheim because of our home crowd – but on the other side it’s 25 points; as many points as any other given circuit and we just need to add another good race performance in order to make a step towards the Championship.
Q: And talking of good race performance, can I ask you about Valtteri Bottas now. He has four poles this year, so he seems to have made progress in qualifying – yet it doesn’t always translate to Sunday afternoons as well. Why do you think that is?
TW: From my point of view, the performances in qualifying are really strong. Having an almost balanced record against Lewis Hamilton is something to be proud of and shows that he has made a step-up from last year. Racing, again, is a different exercise. I think this year’s theme is all about keeping the car and the tyres in the sweet spot. That means you maybe need to drive the car in a different way. He’s getting there. He’s getting better and better. We have seen a race in Silverstone where, if the Safety Car had come out in a different way, he would have challenged for the race win. But the ifs don’t count. You need to bring it to the end – but I’m sure we will see Valtteri continue to improve and bring in good race performances.
Q: …and continue with Mercedes in 2020?
TW: I knew you were going to ask that question! We want to end the season before the shutdown in a good place and put in two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest and then spend some time thinking about driver line-up for 2020 and beyond.
Q: Otmar, an important race for Racing Point this weekend with lots of upgrades coming to the car. After FP1, what are your first impressions of the performance.
Otmar SZAFNAUER: Well, first impressions were positive. We didn’t run the quickest tyre and we looked a bit more competitive than usual in FP1 – but unfortunately this press conference conflicts with our debrief, so I don’t know as much as I normally would. We’ve got to get the drivers’ feedback and then look at the data. We’ll know more tomorrow morning after we run FP2 as well.
…but first impressions
OS: First impressions were very positive, yeah.
Q: It’s been almost a year since the takeover by Lawrence Stoll. Can you take a moment’s reflection for us and just tell us the impact that that has had on the team and the plan going forward with factory, drivers, things like this?
OS: The impact’s been quite positive. Things like bringing a big upgrade here in the past wouldn’t have been possible. So, from a financial perspective, we are on a much better footing and our plans going forward are very good. They’re strategic but it takes some time to implement. Last year, at this time, for example, we were around 405 people. We’re at around 430 now, so not a huge change in personnel, just because it does take time. So there will be a lag between the better financial footing that we’re on, the plans that we have going forwards, and actually the implementation. The immediate impact, like you see today, we have a big upgrade here, and that’s only a good thing.
Q: Franz, it’s a very tight midfield battle this year with rivals like Racing Point bringing performance to their car here in Hockenheim. Can you tell us how you see the pecking order in the midfield, and what plans you’ve got for upgrades for your car?
Franz TOST: Toro Rosso has also some upgrades here on the aerodynamical side and looks not so bad but of course we have to analyse all the data and everything, set up the car in the proper way with these new aero upgrades and then we will see tomorrow in qualifying where we end up. I think that it’s a step forward – but nearly every team comes up with such upgrades and, at the end, in the midfield, which is very close together, it’s very decisive, that you continuously improve the performance of the car, come with upgrades and then we will see at the end of the season who had a higher development speed and the most successful development.
Q: Can I ask you quickly about drivers as well. You took a bit of a gamble with both of them prior to this season and both are doing a good job. Your analysis of their first half of the season and plans for 2020.
FT: We have two really good drivers. Daniil Kvyat we knew from the past that he is fast, he is also matured now and he is showing a very, very good performance. Alex Albon, for me, is the positive surprise of the young drivers, together with Norris. I think that he will have a very strong second half of the season because then he knows the car quite well, he knows what’s going on in Formula 1, and if we provide him with a proper package, I think that he will come up with really good results. I personally hope that we can continue with these two drivers but this in the end is a decision from Red Bull, and I think the decision will not be made before the end of September / the beginning of October.
Q: Guenther, let’s start by looking back, if we can, at Silverstone. I wonder if you could talk to us about the post-race debrief perhaps. What’s the fallout of what happened at the start between your two drivers?
Guenther STEINER: I mean everybody saw it. They crashed into each other, I guess, and both had a puncture, which wasn’t correct. I want to move on from that. I talked with both of them yesterday. Our focus now is… I mean we could sit there and discuss it over and over. At some stage you need to live with it. It’s water under the bridge. We need to get out of this one saying I told the guys… I mean, I expressed my opinion after the race. I want that they focus on here, because we are still… we didn’t’ get the result we wanted in Silverstone. We again went away with no points. We need to focus to understand better how to get this car to work again – because the car at some point works, and then it doesn’t work any more. We need to get a good understanding so after the summer break we can be stable. That is my aim, to have a clear way to go forward where the car needs to be for the different specs of the car here, so we get a lot of data and hopefully can come to a conclusion after the summer break and move on. There was not a lot more said yesterday about Silverstone because it’s old news.
Q: Well, you say you’ve got the cars in different specs here. Is Grosjean still in the Melbourne-spec car? It seems quite a drastic decision to go back to the start of the season.
GS: Sometimes only drastic decisions work, in my opinion. At some stage, if you continue to discuss, back and forward the same thing over and over again, that means you don’t know what you’re doing, in my opinion. So you need to prove it. It’s drastic, and its very unusual, but sometimes you have to look outside of the box to know what to do to get an understanding, Yeah, he’s again in the Melbourne-spec car because in Silverstone we didn’t get enough data because of the reason you said before, so our aim is now to just understand what we have to do the second half of the season, nothing else. That is our task here and in Hungary.
Q: Mario, thanks for waiting, 2020 tyre testing is ongoing, the latest test taking place after the British Grand Prix. How’s it going and what are you learning?
Mario ISOLA: It’s going well. We are testing different constructions, different compounds. We want to change the product for next year in the direction that was highlighted by the teams, by my friend Guenther here, with a wider working range…
GS: I’m a consultant now.
MI: He’s a consultant… And less overheating, that is, as I’ve said many times, is something that drivers don’t like. So we continue out work. It’s important that we clarify for the future what is required to the 18-inche tyre for 2021, because we will start soon to also test the 2021 tyres and we need to agree the targets for that in order to be all in the same direction, because we have only product.
Well, F2 is testing the 18-inch tyre as well. How transferrable is the data you are getting from the F2 car to the F1?
MI: We will collect important data from the test but the level of energy, the level of stress, the forces are that on the tyres in a Formula 1 car are not comparable to F2. But there are some good indications. We did two sessions; we are ready for the third one. We just finished one. We have a good indication from the new size but again, also the size will be different, because Formula 2 will continue with the 245 front and 325 rear, that is the old Formula 1 size. There are many differences but I believe that having one full year of racing with Formula 2 cars next will be quite important to understand how to develop for some elements the Formula 1 tyres.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Dan Knutson – Auto Action and Speedsport) Otmar, following on from the earlier questions, as the team expands and you are building a new factory, you will face some challenges – I don’t know, paying lots of money for land, zoning and planning permission. Where are you with the factory and when will it be online?
OS: We should have all the permissions in place towards the latter half of this year, before Christmas. We are in the design phase now of the factory, trying to ‘right-size’ it for the future. There is also a little bit that we have to wait, to see what the 2021 regulations are going to be, which will have an impact on what we build. Probably before mid-year next year we will be well on the way with building the factory.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – motorsport-total.com) Toto, you said in Austria that ideally you would hope to have clarity about Valtteri’s future sooner than last year. Last year I believe the contract was announced on July 20th and now we are at the 26th, so what has changed and what is the reason for that delay?
TW: You’re following those dates better than I do. I guess it’s pretty unusual to announced drivers in July anyway. If you want to take all the time you properly need to assess you can even drag it into the winter, like we have seen in some other teams and which was the standard in the past. For us it’s not only about making the right decision for next year, it’s about looking ahead. And this is why we agreed that we will take the decision in August going forwards. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we will announce it in August.
Q: (Julien Billotte – Auto Hebdo) A question to Toto. At the start of this century we had a German driver winning everything and the interest for F1 in Germany was sky high. Now we have a German team winning everything and maybe the numbers are not as they used to be. How do you explain this difference? Is it just a case of fans being more interested in drivers than teams or do you think we have changed eras and people are no longer accepting periods of sustained domination like yours?
TW: In my opinion there are two reasons. The only team that is having a full nation behind them is Ferrari. This is historic and it is something we would be aiming for in a best case. But it’s also a situation that has to grow over many years if not decades. You have to stay in the sport for a long time, grow your fanbase and then it becomes less of a factor who drives the car, as long as it is a Ferrari. So I would very much hope that we are building the foundations today that in 20 years from now we can achieve such a status. But of course you have to be realistic and people cheer for drivers – at least in Formula 1. We have had very successful German drivers in Formula 1 that have dominated their eras – Michael in the early 2000s and then Sebastian from 2010 to 2014 – and I think that comes in waves. You can see there was great interest in Formula 1 and Formula 1 drivers in Germany in these 10 or more years in a similar way that there was in tennis around Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, and the interest has faded away. And if you look at Spain, which is another market that gives you some kind of indication, it was not existent before Fernando and it was one of the best markets with the most vivid fans when Fernando could compete for race wins and championships, but once that was over it was one of our weakest markets, and there is not a lot of following. So I think combining those two factors, obviously continue to be in Formula 1, build your fan base as a team, and have a German driver that is a great personality that is fighting for the championship, these are ingredients to revive the German interest.
Q: (Dieter Rencken – Racing Lines / Racefans.net) Guenther and Otmar, last year during the Abu Dhabi, I believe after that, you brought some form of action against Liberty regarding column one monies, that apparently Racing Point are qualifying for and that you felt you should. Could you give us the latest on this situation? Is it still ongoing? Has there been a resolution on it? Where do we stand? And Otmar, how does this affect your team’s plans going forward, given that there is potential $60 million involved?
GS: There is nothing new to report. I think you asked the same question a few months ago, Dieter, and I didn’t report anything there. It’s an ongoing process and I have to leave it at that.
Q: Otmar, anything to add?
OS: No. I don’t think the case is against us, so nothing to add.
Q: (Phil Duncan – PA) Toto, at the start of 2017 the battle between Sebastian and Lewis was billed as the most successful drivers of their generation going head-to-head. However, over the past two years we have seen that Lewis has been the convincing winner, and also during that time Sebastian has made a few uncharacteristic mistakes. Do you think that Lewis’ talent is the main reason that Sebastian has made those mistakes and that Lewis has managed to get under Sebastian’s skin and perhaps dented his confidence?
TW: I think you need to be careful of trying to pinpoint it to one single factor. Undoubtedly, Lewis has a great ability and talent. But one of the strengths that I have been a witness to in those last years is how he continues to develop as a racing driver and how he continues to develop as a human being. He is very self-reflective. I’ve said it a few times, but he is the only driver I have heard coming in after a session and saying ‘you don’t need to look at my data because my driving was not good enough’, and that from a five-time world champion. And I think that self-reflection and that ability to be brutally honest with yourself has certainly made him one of the greats. I know Sebastian, but I have too little insight into how the team works and how Sebastian looks at things. What I can say is that the record speaks for him. He has won four championships and that doesn’t come from anywhere (sic) and I have no reason to believe that he is not going to recover from what looks like a moment of mistakes. But definitely both of these drivers have shaped a generation of drivers and it is excit5ing to see them fighting.
Q: (David Joram – Der Tagesspiegel) To Franz and Toto: tomorrow we will see a small show of Mick Schumacher. What do you think about him and what do you think about his performances in this season?
FT: I think Mick is showing a real good performance. Last year he won the Formula 3 European Championship. This year is the first year in Formula 2. He showed some very good races, in some other races he was involved in incidents, but it is a learning year. I expect that he will do another Formula 2 year. Tomorrow he is in the car that his father drove here and that is a very exciting moment for all the fans and also for Mick. I’m convinced that he will make his way into Formula 1.
TW: Well, Franz knows everything about young drivers and there’s not a lot to add. Maybe from the personal side, he is a great young man with a fantastic character and personality, and a big name that sometimes can have a negative impact in Formula 1 because you are being put under pressure and he copes extremely well with that pressure and now we need to give him time to properly develop as a young man and as a racing driver and I have no doubt that we will see him in Formula 1.
Q: (Stefan Ehlen – Motorsport Total.com) It seems unlikely that the German GP is returning next year. How much does Formula One need a race in Germany and which track would you prefer: Nürburgring or Hockenheim or even do the Nordschleife?
MI: Nordschleife is a bit aggressive choice I believe. For us, Germany is a very important market, very important car manufacturers are based here so hopefully they will find a solution for Germany. Hockenheim or Nürburgring? I don’t have a strong preference on the two circuits. One or the other is OK, but not the Nordschleife.
GS: I think there should be a race in Germany, it’s a big car manufacturing country and if you don’t come here it’s quite disappointing but it needs work financially like everything in the world, there needs to be some finances but I think we can put a pledge into Toto to help out here if we get a race in Germany. You know we blame it on him if there is no German race here. Hopefully we can get… it’s not off the calendar yet but it looks like it’s not going to happen but sure it would be great to have a race here. Nürburgring or here? I don’t really… I think there should be a race in Germany.
TW: Unusually well said from Guenther! Yeah, there should be a race in Germany. Germany is a historic venue. Both of these tracks have historic context. If we could race on the Nordschleife, that would be great, the drivers would love it but I don’t think it’s technically feasible any more. The track doesn’t allow these kind of speeds but there is a financial reality. In Formula One, the promoters have the duty or FOM has the duty to bring in the best deals and balance with the historic relevance and we are dependent on the income as well and that financial reality is just a fact and they need to make the right choices. If we could vote for a race in Germany we would but we respect the authority of Formula One to chose the right tracks. I like both to be honest, also very traditional and great racing tracks for drivers.
FT: There’s not so much to add. It would be a shame if you do not come back to Germany. Germany should have a Grand Prix being so much involved in the automotive industry but as it looks like the ingredients are not coming together, neither at the Nürburgring or here at the Hockenheimring and therefore drastic end could be that we are not racing any more with Formula One here in Germany.
OS: With a name like Otmas Zsafnauer I feel a certain duty to support the German Grand Prix so it would be a shame if we don’t come back here. We enjoy coming, it’s great racing and massive fan base too with everything that happens at the Nürburgring and DTM and Formula One. I think we should continue to come. Nürburgring or Hockenheim? Both are good.
Q: (Luke Smith – Crash.net) Toto, could we get an update on Esteban Ocon’s plans for next year? Where does he fit into your considerations for Mercedes in 2020? Are you starting to sound out other F1 teams about a seat for the future and would you consider releasing him as a last resort if you’re unable to land him an F1 seat for next year?
TW: We’re very happy with the development of Esteban and equally George. They are our most senior junior drivers and the aim is to make them ready for a seat in a Mercedes. And as we all know, it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out so from our perspective everybody knows about his driving capabilities. For Mercedes, for ourselves, Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat but equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team. He contributes a lot behind closed doors. He drives the sim overnight on race weekends, comes in here on Saturday and gives us input and he’s a great kid overall. Putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well. Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit. And if it would mean that we are taking a decision in favour of Valtteri, it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop him and would mean that we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban and these are the consequences of that decision.
Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) Toto, if you could pick anyone you want from the current drivers, what would be your dream team?
TW: Good question, Heikki. I think overall it’s an exciting period because we have strong quality within the Formula One grid and you can say that certainly the most experienced – Lewis and Sebastian – merit their place in Formula One. Lewis is the one to beat, he’s setting the benchmark. Then you have exciting drivers like Max who is coming up, who has shown great ability and has won races and no doubt about his talent. And then there a group of drivers that have shown that they are capable of winning races if they are put in the right car, be it Daniel or Valtteri, who I’m not forgetting anybody, but definitely very strong. And then the fourth group are the exciting young men that are coming up and this is a big group that have definitely come into Formula One on merit and it is Esteban and George, Lando, Lance has won the F3 European championship, Albon is a great surprise and is doing well, so I think these will be the future superstars in Formula One and seeing that panning out between the ones that have been here for a while and these new kids coming up is making Formula One very interesting. So to come back to your question: I have definitely a dream team that I have in my mind but I can’t tell you!
Q: How about the other team principals; have you got a dream team Guenther?
GS: No. After Toto has spoken I just cannot repeat what he said in five minutes, not giving an answer. I’m quicker, I don’t know there’s a lot… I have my dream team but I don’t want to tell you who it is and I cannot get them anyway so why I would I even dream about it? It’s just Toto who can get them because he has got the best car. My dream team is a lot smaller than his one but I still cannot tell you.
FT: Happy with the drivers, no dream.
OS: It’s nice to dream but we were realistic and we’re happy with the two we have.
Q: (Vall Klausman – Racing Line, Hungary) Otmar, are you happy with the coming budget cap, do you need it or do you wish to have other support regulation side to close the gap to the top teams?
OS: I think the budget cap’s needed and yes, we’re happy that it’s coming. Is the budget cap low enough? We were hoping that it would be lower but I do have sympathy and understanding for some of the teams that will have to make internal cuts because that’s not easy so as a first step we welcome it. We, as a team, will not be butting up to that budget cap so we will still be below it but I think it’s the right direction for Formula One.
Q: Toto, can we get your thoughts on the budget cap?
TW: I think the budget cap is important because it prevents the big three teams to continuously escalate the costs just to beat each other and it puts a ceiling on that and that is good. It certainly will help to narrow the gap between the smaller teams and the big ones, simply because we will not be able to escalate it any more. Having said that, it’s still above what the small teams spend so for me personally it’s a breakthrough that we actually have accepted the concept of a cost cap for years to come and then one step at a time; the next step could be even maybe lowering the cap from where we are now or finding different tools to stop the spending war that has happened over the last 20/30 years in Formula One.
Q: (Christian Nimmervoll – Motorsport Total.com) I see how the Nordschleife – as good as it would be – is a long shot probably to realise but in terms of Liberty seeking unique event character race tracks, do you think it was a mistake that Formula One got rid of the old Hockenheimring layout?
OS: The Nordschleife is probably a step too far – you’re right – and it’s hard to know whether this is better or that’s better because it’s never a controlled experiment. I’m glad we’re here, we like the venue here as is and I think it’s good for the fans.
FT: I think Nordschleife is not for Formula One any more, for the current Formula One cars, safe enough as we all know and therefore they changed the track over there at the Nürburgring and I think that the decision was absolutely right.
TW: Well we tend to be a little bit nostalgic about the old tracks and as Franz and Otmar have said, Nürburgring Nordschleife is not feasible any more, the cars would go too fast and would be too dangerous. I liked the old Hockenheim layout and slipstream battles into the forest but it is what it is. The track is great, the infrastructure is great that we have today and that’s why it makes no sense to dream about the past.
GS: Not a lot more to be said. I don’t know why they got rid of the old Hockenheim, I don’t remember why that was but this is a great venue and the only thing is that they shouldn’t dream about the old one, we should try to deal with the present to get the race here, whatever it is, that’s my opinion on Hockenheim, we should have a race here or at the Nürburgring in Germany.