Toto: “We let the boys play with their toys, unless they break them”
How is the relationship between Nico and Lewis right now?
It’s an intense relationship but this intensity is normal: they are both competitive guys and they are fighting for a World Championship. They have a competitive car with exactly the same strengths and weaknesses, so they need to fight for every little advantage wherever they can. We have seen a lot of talk about their relationship but that’s not the key thing for a successful campaign: it’s a job, not a holiday, and the drivers need to work with and for the team first of all. There have been a lot of comparisons to the Senna / Prost scenario, which is a kind of compliment to both Lewis and Nico. But the situation here is very different. The racing philosophy of Mercedes-Benz is to allow our drivers to compete: we let the boys play with their toys, unless they break them. Sure, it can be pretty tense when they are racing so hard, but the drivers know we will not tolerate any incident. Both of them know that they are representing not just themselves, and not just the team, but nearly 300,000 people who work for Mercedes-Benz around the world.
How would you rate the team’s performance in Monaco?
It was another strong weekend. We went to Monaco convinced that our rivals could outperform us and that’s how we worked to prepare for the weekend: like we were the underdogs. Our focus was on giving the drivers a car they could take to the limit with confidence and a driveable powertrain. So we were pleased to see that we still had a good advantage at the front of the field. But the difference between having a fast car and delivering a one-two finish, especially in Monaco, is enormous. The team and our drivers didn’t put a foot wrong and it was a very proud moment to take a fifth consecutive one-two for the first time in Mercedes history. The team is operating at a very high level right now but we need to keep the ball flat, stay humble and keep pushing. Our rivals are getting closer every weekend.
What was your assessment of the drivers’ performances?
Lewis and Nico have been very evenly matched all year and they pushed each other all the way in every session. They are both Monaco specialists, so they were determined to perform. Nico has a great track record there but it’s a special achievement to win consecutive Grands Prix in Monaco, especially with your team-mate breathing down your neck for the majority of the race. He absorbed the pressure well. Lewis had a very strong weekend, too. He was frustrated after qualifying and that’s completely normal: he will never be happy with anything other than first place. But he brushed off that disappointment and ran another perfect race. He could only see out of one eye in the final stages – but he showed his determination in racing to the finish and holding off Daniel (Ricciardo) in the Red Bull. We are fortunate to have two drivers who push each other so hard – and drive the team forward by doing that.
There was a lot of discussion about the incident in the final stages of qualifying and also about potential favouritism within the team. Is there any truth to it?
Looking back at qualifying, the race stewards are the impartial authority. They saw the data, they gave Nico a pretty good grilling and they found no reason to believe it was anything other than a mistake. So in that situation, you have to believe it was an honest mistake. Within the team, we are transparent with our data and we give our drivers equal equipment and equal opportunity to succeed. We have fair processes in place to handle things like which driver runs first on the road in qualifying, or who has the priority with race strategy. We constantly question any area in which we think we can improve how we work but we are not planning to make any changes. Our priority at every race weekend is that a Silver Arrow wins – not which driver wins. We want to see hard, fair competition that does not damage the success of the team.
Where do things go from here as you prepare for Canada?
On paper, you might say that Canada is the kind of circuit that should suit our package. But we don’t have a crystal ball and we have been bitten by that way of thinking in the past. We know that our rivals are getting closer and that we will need to extract every bit of potential to deliver a strong performance in Montréal. Lewis has a fantastic track record in Canada, Nico has the momentum from his win in Monaco. We are all looking forward to the next chapter in the story of this season.