Toto: “The car is a missile – but we need to get on top of reliability”

Toto: “The car is a missile – but we need to get on top of reliability”

Toto, just how good was that performance from Lewis in Singapore?

First of all, fantastic stuff from Lewis who drove an incredible race. The way he regularly pulled away at two or three seconds per lap – it was a great performance. These are the days where you really recognise how great he is. That’s what makes the difference between the good ones and the very best ones.

The strategy call turned out to be a closely run thing – were you nervous at any stage?

When the safety car came out we didn’t have any concerns as, although we were following our own strategy, we could mirror what the others were doing. In terms of degradation and tyre overheating, we had seen from the long runs on Friday that we were looking ok on the tyres. There wasn’t any particular worry that they would let us down. It was more the concern that reliability could affect the other car. When it came to the stop itself, you cannot be complacent and you cannot afford to lose even a fraction of a second in that moment. The crew did a superb job when it really mattered. We knew that finishing the race with tyres more than 30 laps old would have created a huge pace deficit – and this is exactly what we saw with our competitors. In the end, for Lewis, you could see the pace difference was about three to four seconds per lap – and he was taking it easy. So it was the right call – but when you have one car remaining as your only weapon out there you have constant doubts about everything. When Lewis came out and was two seconds behind Sebastian, we thought that he would probably clear him – but there is always a doubt.

We saw you consoling Nico in the garage when he emerged from the car – what did you say to him and how did he handle the disappointment?

I said sorry to Nico for having let him down. This is obviously not what we are aiming for and, as a driver, it’s a bitter blow having lost so many valuable points. So it doesn’t really help them what you say in that moment – but as a team you need to be able to take it on yourself and apologise when you have messed up. It’s a character trait that you need to have, it goes in both directions and we have that spirit and philosophy within the team. Nico was very professional, very calm, and that’s something I’m very proud of. In the heat of the moment he kept a cool head and tried to reset the system as best he could. Then, when he got out of the car, of course he was very disappointed. But one of his strengths is the ability to switch that off and even when disaster strikes, he is able to hold his head up high and support the team during the race.

What exactly was the fault on his car and why couldn’t the team get him back out in the pit stop?

It was a hardware problem, which looks to be a loom within the steering column that broke. We don’t know how that happened yet. It’s a part that we exchange regularly and it was well within its duty cycle – so we need to understand what happened. The whole thing came out of the car and flew back to the UK with the team overnight. As soon as possible we will be trying to analyse it in a forensic way to understand where the problem started and why it appeared when he got into the car and was about to leave the garage. The whole system broke down and the only things functioning were his gear changes – he didn’t have any engine modes anymore. We tried to survive with it but he didn’t really have Hybrid energy to deploy and you could see that in the lap times. When he couldn’t get moving again in the pits we decided to call it a day because it was just too dangerous. The main danger was in actually trying to get the car moving, as it would have required putting first gear in, getting lots of revs, dropping the car and just going. We didn’t want to risk having the jack flying out at the rear and hurting somebody so we stopped it there.

What more can be done to prevent further reliability problems? There have been a few now this season…

If we could do anything more to prevent further retirements we would be doing it – I would break my arm again to make it happen! It’s something we need to get on top of – we have a missile of a car but, in terms of reliability, we are having issues. We have a great group of people in our reliability team who are dedicated to quality. We’re very proud of the structures they are putting into place – and that’s what makes it even more astonishing that we keep having these issues. These things take time to get a grip on – but we will not stop until we stop suffering these DNFs. We have had four of them now and it would not be satisfying at all to have the Championship decided because one car let the driver down. We need to refocus, get our heads down and keep concentrating on preventing these reliability problems reoccurring.

Coming into the weekend, team radio was very much the talking point. Were there any calls which could have crossed the boundaries? How much did it affect the team?

We had several moments where we discussed whether what we were saying was still within what is allowed, so I think there are some messages that will require more calibration. But it didn’t particularly harm us. If it had been enforced as originally suggested it would have been a nightmare. Can you imagine not being able to give any messages to the drivers in our situation yesterday? How do you want to communicate with the driver whose steering wheel is not showing him anything anymore? It’s also a matter of safety. Maybe the Singapore race, with all of its ingredients, needs to flow into any future decisions on radio messages. I think Charlie and the FIA have realised that this needs another look and I’m sure that good will come out of it at the end.

Lewis and Nico are now just three points apart in the Drivers’ Championship – how might both their approach and the teams’ philosophy shift approaching the final five races?

If you want to be a World Champion you have to survive the pressure – and the pressure is on now for both drivers. For the fans, that’s the best thing that can happen. We don’t need to make any re-evaluation of our position as a team. They are now almost equal on points and both have an equal chance of winning the World Championship, so our job is to keep things as balanced and neutral as possible. The only consequence for us is a few more grey hairs!

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