Toto, you win too much! For the second time in three years your drivers have a title showdown here in Abu Dhabi. How do you assess their mindset and I’d be interested to know how does it differ from the first time they were in this position back in 2014? How have they matured and matured in relation to each other, in their mindset and what you see this weekend?
TW: Obviously the longer you work with each other the better you get to know each other and it’s the third season that we have had a car that was able to win races and win championships. I said it before, that in the last couple of races we had a great amount of serene… almost a serene environment. Very good for the team because they have worked together to make the car faster. Very productive and then it was very good for the dynamics within the team. Although, I must say that the championship was getting tougher and tougher for both of them. It was clear that they would be the greatest rivals for winning the Drivers’ title and we’ve seen that this weekend is somehow a bit different; you can see that there is pressure coming up, which I guess is pretty normal at this stage of the season.
Red Bull looked fast this afternoon and earlier on in the long runs, but I’m interested, has the gap really closed up at the back end of the season or have you just done enough to keep everybody at arm’s length?
TW: We have seen over the last couple of races that the gaps between us and Red Bull and Ferrari have stayed pretty stable, for the simple reason that everybody must have switched off development of the 2016 car. Not all at the same time, there will have been teams that have done it sooner than others, but what you see now in terms of performances gaps or the difference in performance gap, is that somebody just gets it right on a particular track with a set of tyres, but generally it’s been on a similar level for the last, I would say, four or five races.
Toto, you know what Lewis said here in the press conference yesterday about the mechanics, the book and so on. I would like to have your comment and that you don’t have any regret over that decision at the beginning of the season?
TW: You know it’s always dangerous because there is one statement that is being picked out from a press conference between the two of them and as I said before I find it very remarkable how they’ve managed the relationship between the two of them for the benefit of the team, taking into consideration that it must be very intense and very high pressure for them. So that one comment was taken out and it is clear that if you change a crew that is directly involved with a drivers, such as mechanics or a number one that a driver constantly looks at when he’s pulling out of the garage, it can have a psychological effect and we acknowledged that and it was part of our thinking when we shuffled it around. But as a matter of fact we are 1,500 people in Brixworth and Brackley and it’s about developing personnel. Somebody who was working on one corner of the car today as a mechanic might be a number one next year, might be a chief mechanic afterwards and maybe has even more potential within the organisation. In a similar way we have done all through the organisation we are not keeping it static. It’s a dynamic structure and the same happens in the garage. This is a fact. I appreciate the effect on the singular driver and it was taken into consideration and maybe I’ll write a book in 10 years and we’ll put some things in there.
To follow up on that question Toto. Isn’t it important to keep your number one satisfied and to give him the best of everything he needs to be successful – especially in the beginning of the season when he was aiming for a fourth world championship?
TW: It’s very important. It is, in terms of keeping the performance up in the team, you need to consider what your high-performance need; what kind of environment they need, what kind of framework they need in order to perform best. And we’ve considered that. And there is not just one position like the chief mechanic that is important for the performance of the team and the drivers but we have to take decisions for many, many hundreds of people and develop them. It is our duty and obligation towards these 1500 people and the great brand to take the right decisions and not one single individual – although taking into mind what is important for the driver itself. What you are seeing here on the race track is the tip of the iceberg. And by the sheer nature there is a large block underneath that brings performance and has brought the team to where we are today. And part of that is to have the most effective organisation. Not only today but also tomorrow – and that is just part of the normal procedure.
But if you knew that was going to psychologically affect your number one driver, why would you make that decision?
TW: I’ve explained it to you already once before that weekend. There’s 1500 and we need to take care that these 1500 perform well. Not one. 1500.
You said that the pressure is coming up. Just speaking about Nico, do you think that this season he’s been able to deal with pressure better and perhaps he’s a bit more focussed and blocking things out more than he was in the previous two campaigns?
TW: Yes, he deals with it very well and there is nothing that somehow affects him. This is at least my impression. Whether it’s a difficult weekend, he has learned to assess it in the right way at the right time and move on – or whether it’s a good weekend, to stay humble, both feet on the ground and try to understand why that was. Whether spirits are high or spirits are down it was all pretty stable with him – and certainly, as far as I can see, that is one of the keys why he’s leading the championship today.
What do the rule changes mean for your particular team, what are your hopes, what the challenges you’re facing?
TW: Honestly, we weren’t big supporters of a regulation change. Not because we wanted to freeze the current situation. It’s clear that when regulations stay stable that eventually performance is going to converge. But because we weren’t sure that it is the right way for Formula One. But as it is, we are where we are and the cars, certainly in the wind tunnel, look very spectacular, very wide with the big tyres and I am personally very excited to see them on track for the first time. For the drivers it will be much harder; the cars will be pulling more g through the corners. The simulations that we have seen are very exciting. The corners will be flat that are far from flat today – and we will be breaking records in terms of lap time. So, I guess, an exciting season that will be ahead of us. I hope that overtaking is not going to be too difficult because of the width of the car and the dirty air behind it – but let’s see. In hindsight, now that we are where we are, we have to do the best out of it.
To Toto specifically but if the others would like to join in please feel free. Toto, you’ve been on the strategy group since its inception basically. Do you honestly believe that it best serves Formula One’s interests? At the latest one, for example, I believe the teams on either side of you put in certain proposals. These were blocked before they could even reach the Formula One commission so therefore they can’t be voted on properly. Does this really work and is there an alternative to this because there’s been an awful lot of criticism about the group?
TW: You are a number one fan of the strategy group, we’ve found out. It is what it is. In Formula One, the difficulty is that every team has got to have an opinion and it is very much focused of course on your own performance but then we are responsible enough, within the group, to take into consideration what’s good for Formula One and most recently I’ve seen a development that even within the very big rivals on the strategy group and in the F1 commission there is consensus and we’re trying to seek consensus. Some of the things are not being accepted or not voted on. You refer to two specific proposals which, with all due respect to my friend Otmar, were on the agenda half a year ago. They were referred to the technical regulations meeting, so the competent group, not the dangerous group! The competent group decided that it was not the right way forward and for whatever reason these regulations appeared back on the agenda on the strategy group and this is why it was voted against, that is the fact. But that governance is in place until 2020 and if there is a possibility that we can improve it next time around in order to better the approval process, I’m the first one to vote in favour.
Toto, there have been some stressful moments this season. If you were to give your podium of the top three between the first lap incident in Spain, the last lap in Austria and the engine failure for Lewis when he was about to win, which is the one-two-three for you?
TW: You mean number one is the worst one? Shall we start from the back? Third place, for me, of the worst races is certainly Lewis’s engine failure in Malaysia because it heavily influenced his championship. He was in the lead, solid in the lead in a race – in races - where it was going back and forth with Nico. Nico had a great race in Singapore which he dominated. Then Malaysia was very much Lewis’s weekend and it continued that way in – what was the next one? – Suzuka, Mexico. So that’s third place – and it came out of nowhere, really, so still a bit of a traumatic race. Number two? Barcelona. It’s rare that you have a complete wipe-out, one and two in the front and you end up with zero points and for the team, obviously not a nice situation. We stood in front of the screens... I remember, I had the CEO of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, next to me and he says ‘what are we doing now?’ which was a new experience. But it was OK because it didn’t happen for a long time, since Spa 2014. So number one, for me, the worst, was Austria because it came a couple of races after Barcelona. We made it very clear that we saw Barcelona as a one-off and wasn’t acceptable going forward and here we go, we’re on the last lap of that particular race at the Red Bull-ring, home turf for our great rivals and we nearly lose both cars on the last lap, being in one and two. This is where, for me, the mark was over-stepped and we made that clear, but that was my winner. Not.
Yes, but then you’d have to provide a budget, wouldn’t you?
TW: First of all, I must say, really, having had the opportunity with Esteban and Pascal in Manor was great and the development slope of that team is impressive and it’s a great place for both of them and Manor is still very much an opportunity for next year. Well obviously Esteban is going to Force India and we are in discussion with Monisha and in discussion with Stephen and his management group and nothing is decided yet. That’s where we are.
Toto, do you think that at this moment Lewis Hamilton fully trusts your team or if not are you doing something to rebuild the relationship?
TW: Absolutely trusts. We under-estimate the pressure under which these guys are, not only in the spotlight of a global audience. You have to deliver every single weekend, you have to race your teammate, it’s down to the last race to win the championship and it’s all coming up, all the frustrations and all the happy moments. If a microphone is being put under the nose and you’re being asked the right question, sometimes it produces a good headline like it did yesterday. For me, it’s a bit of a boomerang which keeps coming back, this odd story which internally in the team is a closed chapter and we will not come back to this so it doesn’t change anything in my approach to Lewis or an approach towards Lewis because I think it’s well understood that things are sometimes taken out of context, sometimes over-exaggerated and as I said before, sometimes you just need to allow that the drivers can express their feelings and their emotions. We don’t want to streamline them too much.