Toto: “We have mega racing but we have to understand the fans”
How satisfying was the result in Hockenheim?
It felt great. So many of our board members, colleagues and friends from Stuttgart were there in Hockenheim for the weekend so the pressure was on. We’ve performed well at the other big races for the team in Malaysia and Great Britain, but this was the pinnacle for us as a home race. It felt like a one-two because considering where Lewis was coming from in twentieth, it was a magical drive – especially when you consider he had some difficult laps in the early stages of the race. He didn’t make five, six or seven places in the first lap, but he kept working hard to get back to the front right up until the flag. Personally, I know he is a very competitive guy and he will never be satisfied with third but it felt like a very good performance from our side, with so much going on out on track and the need to convert his pit strategy. For Nico, he was controlling the race from the beginning to the end. He knew that the task was to pull a gap and then bring the car home and that's exactly what he did. It was a brilliant performance from him. It was an amazing race and a credit to Germany. I wish to make two special mentions for this victory. First of all, I offer this win to all of our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz who have given us so much support and dedication to reach this level of performance. We are proud to wear the three-pointed star and to represent the best car company in the world. But our thoughts on every race weekend are also with Michael Schumacher, who did so much for our sport in Germany and won so many times here in Hockenheim. He is fighting as only Michael can and we send all our wishes of strength and support to him and his family.
How close was it to being a one-two finish?
Well, I think the misunderstanding with Jenson (Button) cost Lewis quite an amount of lap time as he was definitely lacking downforce from the front wing. We had precise data on what the damage looked like and how the car was performing, so we were aware that there was no structural damage – just damage to the end plate. He undoubtedly would have had much more performance without the contact, though. I wouldn’t put a figure on it in terms of lap time, but he was missing many points of downforce. We kept an eye on it, of course, but decided it wasn’t deteriorating any further. Then with the strategy at the end, switching back onto the option tyre, we knew the window of really good pace on that compound was very narrow. In the end, Valtteri (Bottas) defended where he needed to defend and Lewis just couldn’t quite get past. We took a gamble too by bringing him in early when there could have been a safety car, but it wouldn’t have changed a great deal for him and I think it was the right strategy call. It looked like the safety car would be deployed, but I think this is part of the new era in Formula One – allowing people to race while trying not to influence the race result.
Much has been said regarding the number of spectators attending the race – why do you think this was?
To be honest, I’m really not sure because this is not the first great race we’ve had this season. The last couple of rounds in particular have been great to watch, with lots of overtaking everywhere around the circuit. It’s been mega sport, with some spectacular moments and great racing. I think this shows that Formula One is in really good shape and hopefully it will continue to build momentum behind the sport. It’s important we understand the big picture, as from the sporting side I think all of us are getting it right. We have to properly analyse why there were not more spectators in Hockenheim as it was a real shame. I’m not a marketing expert in terms of why we may or may not have a particular momentum behind the sport or a particular sportsperson. Having a local hero definitely helps a lot. Viewers switch on because they want to see their heroes compete – for them it’s all about the drivers and this is one of the appeals of the sport. The situation is far more complex than that, though. I think people have far more options in terms of how they can follow the sport than they had 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, you wouldn’t open up the internet and have everything available to you instantly like you do now. Perhaps this has an influence, but unfortunately I don’t have the answer.
Should the sport be listening more closely to the views of the fans to address declining viewership? Ticket prices, for example, have been a talking point?
As team members, we must be careful with our opinion on these things. We are running teams and this is what we understand. Bernie is running the show and there is nobody better out there to do that than he is. We’ve had good conversations about it over the last few days and we are going to have more opportunities to give our input, but it is not our role to give an opinion on matters such as ticket prices and we shouldn’t try to interfere. Equally, we have to understand the fans and their criticisms of certain aspects of the sport. Should we have agreed to double points? No, we shouldn’t have. Is the new engine sound as good it could be? No, it isn’t. There are many things to look at, but Formula One definitely does not need a revolution. This should be an evolutionary process. We need to be open to all opinions and help to shape the direction of the sport moving forwards. As a group, the teams talked the sport down at the beginning of the year so in a way many of us are to blame.
Williams have been on strong form – do you see them as the team’s biggest threat?
The Williams team has been rising from the ashes and I’m very happy for them. Their car has looked very competitive at the last three circuits – it reached 346 km/h on the straight in Hockenheim, which is a great advert for this new formula. But Red Bull is still a power house of World Championship winning pedigree. If they can get on top of the Power Unit at a circuit that suits their car they will be very tough to beat.
Will the Championship come down to which driver suffers fewer retirements?
Reliability will play a crucial role, but the racing between the two of them is so close that I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes down to the infamous double points race in Abu Dhabi. Even if one driver is 30 points behind, he can turn that deficit around if the other car retires. I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think we should be doing it from a sporting perspective. But from the view of the commercial rights holder, whose interests lie in selling sponsorship and growing TV audiences, the system works. It keeps the excitement right up to the last race and I would be very surprised if that doesn’t send the viewer numbers right up. Of course, if a driver wins the Championship on double points he won’t care how it happened. But the one who loses may need psychological treatment afterwards!