Toto Wolff has picked out who he believes to be Mercedes’ “strongest weapon” – none other than “Mr Grumpy” himself, Helmut Marko.
Marko is, of course, the head of Red Bull’s driver development programme and a senior advisor to the team with which Mercedes are competing in a fierce tussle for both of this year’s World Championship titles.
The two Austrians are anything but best friends, with the less diplomatic Marko – 29 years Wolff’s senior – never shy of expressing his real feelings about the arch-rivals.
But Wolff, rather than being riled, prefers to use his compatriot’s barbs as fuel in the quest to make it a straight eight of both Drivers’ and Constructors’ crowns.
“Mr Grumpy is our strongest weapon,” said Wolff, quoted by Austrian media outlet OE24. “Niki [Lauda] always said ‘every attack from the outside strengthens our team’.
“When it comes to a World Championship in Formula 1, you are not cuddling.”
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Lauda, who had been an integral member of the Mercedes garage until his death at the age of 70 in 2019, was, like Wolff and Marko, also an Austrian.
The three-time World Champion’s influence was referenced in one of Marko’s latest jibes at Mercedes, which related to the number of engine staff Red Bull had lured from Brackley to Milton Keynes to work on their new Powertrains project.
“We are a good team where passion comes first,” said Marko. “Under Niki Lauda, this would never have happened. He was much closer to the engine people.”
Marko, of course, was also quick to have his say following the crash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at Monza, for which the Red Bull driver received the penalty of a three-place grid drop for the next race, the Russian Grand Prix.
The 78-year-old intimated it had been convenient that Mercedes were citing an injury to Hamilton in the aftermath of the incident, just as the stewards were deliberating who had been predominantly at fault and what action to take.
“It was a normal racing accident,” said Marko. “All the stories around it were pulled up by the hair by Mercedes.
“Verstappen had already got out when Hamilton tried to go backwards to get his car out of the gravel. The medical car saw that and drove on.
“And then a show is put on that poor Hamilton is suddenly injured.”
Planet F1 verdict