David Coulthard questions Toto Wolff’s approach during difficult Mercedes period

Oliver Harden
Mercedes team principal Lewis Hamilton speaking to Toto Wolff in the garage, hand gesture. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton speaking to Toto Wolff in the garage at the 2023 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix.

David Coulthard believes Mercedes’ difficulties in facing up to their new reality in Formula 1 is simply a case of “success being a lousy teacher.”

The modern Mercedes team stand as one of the greatest in F1 history having won a record eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships, as well as seven Drivers’ titles shared between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, since the start of the V6 hybrid era in 2014.

Their success came to a sudden stop with the introduction of the ground effect regulations in 2022 with Mercedes restricted to just a single victory last season, taken by George Russell in Brazil, before enduring a muted start to the new campaign.

With Hamilton claiming at the season opener in Bahrain that the Mercedes technical team ignored his guidance on the development direction of the W14 car, Toto Wolff revealed the Silver Arrows will be pursuing a new philosophy going forwards.

Coulthard has been surprised by Mercedes’ knee-jerk reaction to a poor performance in Bahrain, claiming the team’s astronomical success over recent years has left them unable to deal rationally with failure.

During Channel 4’s coverage of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he said: “To me, it’s a case of success being a lousy teacher.

“When you’re winning, everyone’s patting each other on the back and [thinking], ‘we’re brilliant’.

“[Mercedes had] such a clear dominance for several years. Now they sort of settle into difficulties and [let’s] remind ourselves that the year before [2021] it went right down to the wire that they could have won the World Championship.

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“So very quickly, the finger-pointing has started.

“Toto’s has always been a very heart-on-sleeve, open approach, but when you’re in a difficult situation like this sometimes you’ve got to hold back a little bit because, if the leader is not so sure, then what does that do all the way down through the company?

“After one race? Why do you have to apologise after one race?

“Give it half a season before you start doing that.”

After being outqualified by Russell for the second race in succession in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton admitted he was struggling to gel with the W14.

Coulthard believes the difference between the Mercedes drivers comes down to a matter of perspective, with Russell more accustomed to driving substandard F1 machinery having started his career with the lowly Williams team in 2019.

He said: “He’s always worn his heart on his sleeve and that’s one of the great things about Lewis.

“He’s literally like, ‘this car isn’t talking to me, I’m driving it because I know how to drive a race car’.

“But I think that’s the key thing.

“George is getting a little bit more out of it because, actually, this is still probably one of the better cars he’s ever driven, coming up through Williams.

“This is not the best car Lewis has ever driven.

“I think [for] outright pace it’s not as far away as all the chatter from Toto saying, ‘we’re completely back to the drawing board’.

“But it really telling that we know Lewis can do exceptional things when he really feels he owns the racetrack, rather than at the moment he seems like a passenger.”