Toto Wolff interview: The ‘headwind’ Mercedes currently face in Red Bull battle

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Toto Wolff in the garage at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Toto Wolff has offered some insight into the 'headwind' Mercedes currently face against Red Bull.

Toto Wolff has hopes Red Bull’s ‘diminishing returns’ will allow Mercedes to close the gap for 2024, but fears how early their rivals will have switched focus.

After coming out of the blocks for 2023 with an incredibly competitive machine that went on to become the most dominant car in F1’s history, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner recently spoke about how ‘diminishing returns’ means his team is approaching the performance ceiling of the current regulations.

Formula 1 is entering the third year of the ground-effect regulations in 2024, with the now-mature ruleset meaning the teams are finding it more and more difficult to find time and performance – a fact Toto Wolff is hopeful his team will be able to use to spring forward for next season.

Toto Wolff: Red Bull’s engineering team has ‘done a good job’

Speaking to select media, including, at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, the Mercedes team boss was asked about whether he believes the cars are approaching the limits of the regulations after two years of stability (aside from floor tweaks made for 2023).

“You have the laws of diminishing returns, your development or performance curve flattens – that is clear,” Wolff answered.

“The more mature the regulations are, the more you can extract. Maybe our development curve is steeper because we are behind, but that is industrial theory. Whether you can apply it to the world of sports, I’m not quite sure.

“It’s good engineering, their (Red Bull’s) engineering team has just done a good job. They came out of the blocks, for whatever reason, much better than everybody else – and they have a driver who is on top of his game.” recommends

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Toto Wolff: Mercedes would have switched focus back in July in Red Bull’s position

While Mercedes is currently in the position of the hunter, as the Brackley-based squad aims to claw back the gap to Red Bull to fight for titles again, the team enjoyed a spell of dominance between 2014 and 2020 that meant it was possible to switch development focus early for the following year.

This allowed the team – or any team with a similar performance advantage – to always stay a little out of arm’s reach, provided the development work was in the right direction.

With Red Bull open about backing off on development of the RB19 during 2023, partly due to needing to bolster their limited wind tunnel time for development of the new car, Wolff suspects the Milton Keynes-based team could have been working on their car for several months by now.

“I’m sure that Red Bull has probably switched off – there is no such thing as switching off [completely], but they will have started next year’s car way ahead of everybody else,” he said.

“If we were in this situation, looking at our historic strategy, we would probably have been all hands on deck by July on next year’s car.

“That is a month-and-a-half earlier than we have been [for 2024] so, when you calculate the gains that you make alone in aero, you are talking a couple of tenths.”

Asked when the earliest Mercedes had switched focus for the following year in previous seasons, Wolff confirmed it was well before the summer break.

“It was the beginning of July, where we had all groups [working] on next year’s car,” he said.

“You get out of the blocks in a good way, you are leading, you are the benchmark, you understand the car – you’re adding performance.

“Put an aero update on the car and it materialises like you’re expecting it to, not like now, and then you are in the lead by half a second.

“We’ve been there in 2019, 2020 and then you are in a cycle of positiveness where you’re gaining an advantage – and this is one of the headwinds that we’re having at the moment.”

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