Toto Wolff spoke to Christian Horner about comments regarding Valtteri Bottas as he took a dig on F1 engine mode situation, while commented on Andy Cowell’s future.
“It’s obvious that Mercedes favours Lewis,” began Horner of Red Bull, as he took a not-so veiled dig at the practices of the German F1 team when speaking to ESPN. “You see it on strategy, the positioning of the cars and so on. Why wouldn’t they have put Bottas on a two-stop, for example, in Spa [at the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend]?
“That would have given him the opportunity to win the race. The problem is that everything is geared towards Lewis this year on his record-equaling campaign. The reality for Valtteri is that unless he qualifies ahead, he hasn’t got a chance.”
Horner is one of many to have accused Mercedes of preferential treatment, though one of only a few of notoriety to do so, and perhaps, had this allegation come from not his peer, but rather a lower-ranking member of a rival team, perhaps on social media, it would not have garnered a response from the team principal of Mercedes, Wolff.
And yet, that it did, as the Austrian told media at Monza that he confronted Horner on his comments, and justified to him his team’s actions, partly by pointing out the hypocrisy in the Brit’s logic. “I spoke to him about that,” said Wolff to media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network, BBC, Reuturs and more.
“He said ‘why didn’t you pit Valtteri for the second stop?’ And I said if we would have known that a two-stop is quicker, we would have pitted Lewis as well, so in hindsight, the two-stop is the better strategy, but we didn’t want to lose position against Max, because it was not clear whether we would beat Max on-track.
“I said why didn’t you pit Max for a second stop? You could have beaten us. He said well we weren’t sure we would be able to overtake Ricciardo. Well hello, here we go! It’s exactly the same situation. There is no such thing as prioritizing one driver over the other, we have always played it completely open, transparent and fair, and that is how we’re going to continue.”
Wolff has often spoken out against Mattia Binotto and Ferrari, but this was the first instance of Wolff speaking about Horner – something that could be pinned down to Red Bull’s push for the banning of engine modes. Such variable PU modes were something that Mercedes put intensive technical development into, and Wolff shared how their developmental focus shifted to that of maintaining the pace through the amendment to the technical regulations.
“I think the way we operate is about extracting performance, and being as adaptable as an organisation, almost the Darwinistic principle, to confront every possible situation that comes up, and I think once it was clear that the lobby against our quali mode has grown much before the TD came out of the regulations, we shifted our development work in towards that situation,” said Wolff.
“We’ve seen for the first time how the level of performance has changed between the teams, and there are some interesting outcomes. I think maybe the ones that pushed the hardest didn’t show great performance. The biggest advantage we have focused on is to gain race time, and that happens on Sunday. But you don’t want to praise the day before the evening.
“We are pushing the boundaries, and therefore we’ve had a really good Saturday, and I’m very pleased for the team. Now we need to do well on Sunday. I think for us it was important to face this new situation in the most professional way. We knew that this was coming, and once we knew that this was coming, we said OK, let’s use it as an opportunity. I think we have a great organisation, and the mentality in Brackley was great, and they said bring it on, let’s come up with a strong mode for qualifying that we can run all race.
“Overall, we have lost very little qualifying performance, but gained a lot of performance in the race. We can run the engine much harder in the race. We’re only able to achieve that with a lot of research and a lot of bench running. So far, so good. Let’s see how it pans out over the next sessions,” summed up Wolff.
The team managed to maintain their pace well through the change, perhaps even extending their advantage as they had warned they might. However, long-term, uncertainty looms about just how strong their engines might be, as their leading man in their ‘HPP’ department – Andy Cowell – has departed from the team.
Rumors have circulated as far as where Cowell might go, and recently, there has been speculation that he might leave to Ferrari, which could be a devastating blow to the team.
“Andy Cowell was a very important part of our Formula 1 team, has transformed our performance levels from 2014 onwards, and is somebody that is close to my heart as a person and also as an engineer, definitely,” said Wolff.
“I think Andy is at the stage where he’s evaluating all options, and there are many options on the table. Only he can decide which is best for him. He will take his time to do that. I don’t think he will jump on any ship quickly. I think for him, with his track record and his skills as a leader, the world is his oyster.”
In fact, Binotto played down the hiring of Cowell as well amid re-structure they are into. “As we said, in July, we’re restructuring the technical department. Now it’s only a very little time since it happened and I think normally to see the results of a reorganisation it takes some more time,” he said. “I’m pretty happy, the way I can feel that the people feel responsible, understand the matter of urgency of our situation.
“They are working hard, are committed, united in the way to progress the car and somehow progress our competitiveness. So, I think that that’s great. In terms of new people joining Ferrari in the future. I think in F1 you can never be self-satisfied, so if there is anyone that can bring added-value to the team, it’s our responsibility to look for it and eventually to do it. You mentioned Andy Cowell. As far as I’m aware, he’s still working in Mercedes currently but certainly there are great names in F1. Is there someone very soon joining Ferrari? It’s not the case.”
Here’s Max Verstappen on Red Bull not affected by engine mode