With the launch of the Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ and start of pre-season testing fast approaching, we caught up with Toto to hear his thoughts on 2018, Formula E, Lewis's new contract and much more...
Q: It's an important time of year. What's the mood like in the factory at the moment?
TW: "The mood is good. The mood is especially good because today we will be firing up the car for the first time car. It's always a very exciting time, because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive."
Q: How is progress with the new car going?
TW: "It's never going completely seamlessly or smoothly, because you are trying to push the boundaries, make the cars as light as possible and - eventually - as quick as possible. We have had a good winter, I would say. No real drama, but there is always stress within the organisation at this time of year."
Q: Last year's car was referred to as a bit of a 'diva', so what has the team been doing to remedy any of the weaknesses and make sure the W09 isn't so tricky?
TW: "Some of the character traits from a diva, we like. The W08 was the fastest car in Formula One, it scored the most pole positions and won the most races. So, you need to be careful not to dump the things that actually work on the car, just to remedy the difficulties the car showed. We analysed it properly and when we go testing in a months' time, we will see if the car is a little bit better behaved or not."
Q: 2018 is the joint-longest season in F1 history with 21 races and there's a triple-header. How is the team approaching such a long season?
TW: "It's very difficult for the team because not only are you doing 21 races, but all of us have a normal day job as well. So, it is pretty stressful for the organisation and pretty stressful for the individuals. I think we shouldn't be going much further than 21 races, also because it is simply diluting the exclusivity of the event. It's not something we are looking ahead and saying 'that's great, let's do 21 or more'. Last year is was 20 (races) and it was already very difficult for the organisation. So, this is what I see as a limit."
Q: Which races are you most looking forward to?
TW: "I like all of them, because I enjoy the competition on the weekend. It sounds a bit boring, but unfortunately we touch down at the airport on a Thursday, head to the circuit and commute between the circuit and the hotel. But, there are special relationships. I am going to miss Malaysia. We have made friends in Malaysia and not going to Kuala Lumpur will be different. We are returning to Germany, which is very important for us at Mercedes and we hope to have many of our colleagues joining us at the race. And I like Monza - I like the Italian lifestyle, the 'dolce vita' and it's a very special Grand Prix. Cycling into the track through the park. Is special. I'm sure I have missed out many others that I enjoy."
Q: What about the challenge of Paul Ricard for the team?
TW: "I know Paul Ricard very well, I raced there myself a lot and obviously in the summer, in the south of France, there are worse places to be."
Q: This year, you have the enticing prospect of a fifth consecutive Championship double. Do you let yourself think about it, dream about it?
TW: "No, because all points go back to zero. We are extremely happy and proud of the four double titles, but it isn't a guarantee of doing it a fifth time. The mind-set within the organisation is to stay humble about your own achievements but motivated and energised, in order to try and win races again and eventually - hopefully - be in the fight for the title."
Q: How intense do you expect the title fight to be and who will be at the front?
TW: "It's difficult to judge. Last year Ferrari surprised all of us. They put a car on the track that functioned from the get-go. This year, the rules have stayed more stable, but there is a new tyre that is coming into the equation so the truth is, we don't know."
Q: Mercedes is entering Formula E in season six and the new Gen-2 car was recently revealed. What do you make of it?
TW: "Formula E is an exciting platform and, against all odds, Alejandro (Agag) and his team have managed to build a series that is interesting for many people. It clearly hits the zeitgeist, corporate boardrooms are talking about it and what he and his team have been doing is truly amazing. We saw the drawings of the new car which is going to come in a years' time and it looks amazing. It's a completely new concept and I enjoy opening up my horizons, a little bit, to the new series. We are excited to join Formula E."
Q: Fans will be keen to know about Lewis' future with the team. How is the contract situation progressing?
TW: "Lewis has become such an important pillar within the team, it is a no-brainer that we continue with each other. The discussions are ongoing and with a very positive mind-set. It is just a matter of time, when we seal it and put the signature to the document."
Q: 2017 was a great year for the Mercedes-Benz Junior drivers, George, Pascal and Esteban. Does that mean the bar is going to be raised for 2018 and expectations are going to be higher?
TW: "Every year, we set objectives for the boys and they have matched those objectives last year. The bar is rising. If you want to qualify for a Mercedes, you need to be quick, make no mistakes, work well within your team, be respected by your team and energise your team. All of these factors that we try to capture and measure. We will see where they end up in a years' time."
Q: What about the future stars? Where else are you looking?
TW: "We are trying to keep our eyes open to identify the next Lewis Hamilton for in five, six or seven years, when Lewis eventually decides he has had enough of Formula One. We are approaching this with a completely open mind-set. We are even looking at karting. We are supporting a young Italian boy who is barely 12 years old. We enjoy doing that. It is just about identifying the talent, no matter where they are at the moment."
Q: With 2018 ahead, what are you most excited about for Formula One?
TW: "I am most excited to get into the competition, get it all started again and see where we are as a team. Whether we have understood the car better, whether the performance level is good enough to beat the others - and then the sheer competition on the race weekends is what excites me."
Q: So, why should fans be excited for F1?
TW: "I think fans can look forward to a close competition. We had a rule change last year and we had three teams who fought hard at the front. The rules have stayed the same, the engines are converging and I think there are other teams expected to be racing at the front. McLaren with the Renault engine is going to be interesting, Renault will eventually recover - they have put a lot of resource behind the project - and Force India has been punching above their weight class. You can expect more with Checo (Perez) and Esteban being on fire, proving who is the quicker guy and Williams can always surprise. So, I expect there to be even more competition at the front this year between more drivers and more teams."