Exclusive Toto Wolf Q&A: We have a mountain of work to do

It’s just over three months since Toto Wolff left his position as executive director at Williams to become part of a high-profile management triumvirate at Mercedes, with Niki Lauda and Ross Brawn. Since then, the 41-year-old Austrian, who is now a shareholder and executive director with the Brackley-based team, has witnessed the Silver Arrows score two podiums and two pole positions from the opening four races. In this exclusive interview Wolff discusses, amongst other things, the season so far, his plans for the future and why there is still much work to do…

Q: Toto, even if the Bahrain result was a bit disappointing, you must feel like you’ve landed in the land of milk and honey since joining Mercedes…
Toto Wolff:
 Ha, yes, two pole positions so far – that goes down really nicely. But milk and honey would be if we were to do the same on Sunday and finish at the top of the sheet. Maybe we could persuade Bernie (Ecclestone, Formula One group CEO) to also allocate points on a Saturday! So yes, I am happy, not so much about the results, but more about being part of that team. We have a fantastic spirit that means besides the hard work we are able to laugh together. That is very important for establishing a sense of ‘we’.

Q: Could it be that you all are somewhat taken aback by the sudden and rather unexpected success? You must feel very lucky…
 Well, I don’t feel that it is knocking on wood that propels us. If you look at our races so far we’ve had two pole positions and finished twice in P3 – that translates to a very solid upward movement through hard work. Yes, we have to consolidate our race results, but our two guys in the cockpit and our engineers and mechanics are doing a top job and I think what must be on our agenda now is to dovetail all elements a bit better – then we will have the race results we want. It sure is nice to have a pleasant Saturday evening, but I would settle much more for a great Sunday evening! (laughs)

Q: A few garages along from Mercedes you find Williams. With what emotions do you watch their early-season struggles?
 Of course, I see them struggling and I would say that it didn’t help that I left. I think with all the changes in the team they have to refocus. The team has a solid financial basis and I think what is needed now is that step-by-step they build on that. I hope that they drive through that hard time very fast.

Q: Coming back to Mercedes, at management level nobody – you, Ross Brawn, Niki Lauda – had ever worked together before. At what stage of the bonding process are you right now? Surely success must help…
 Niki I’ve know a bit longer – and I would say that we do get along very well. Niki is very outspoken and in daily business to get to the point in plain language helps immensely to sort out problems faster. Ross I pretty much only knew by name and fame, so we had a different starting point. What I witness is that we are on the way towards a non-verbal communication where a glance is all that is needed to understand what’s on the other’s mind.

Q: What qualities have you learned to appreciate in Niki and Ross? You three make a very interesting trio – but also good bedfellows?
 The quality I value most with Niki is his straightforwardness and his efficiency and, needless to say, his value as a sportsman. Ross has all the virtues that a great engineer must have: the preciseness, the focused and structured working mode, the calmness and the leadership he exhibits with his technicians.

Q: Everything is pointing towards the arrival of Paddy Lowe from McLaren next season. Now that you’ve spoken so much of Ross’s technical leadership qualities, is friction to be expected?
 Why? One doesn’t obviate the other. Ross is team principal and I don’t want to change that. We need to get stability in the team as we have a mountain of work to do. From where this team is coming it is important to have as many good people as possible – that is my focus in all these discussions.

Q: Are you surprised that Lewis Hamilton has advocated Ross so strongly?
 No, not at all. Everybody has the highest esteem for Ross and I would be completely mistaken were I to question Ross’ technical skills – someone who has won seven or eight titles. Who am I in this respect? I have been in Formula One for only three years. So I completely agree with every word Lewis said.

Q: What about your two drivers? After almost three months of working together, what qualities do you appreciate in them? After the Malaysian Grand Prix there were suggestions that Lewis must be your number-one driver…
 Three months is not an overly long time. I have seen a bit of their private side, but of course much more of their professional side, and what I can spontaneously say is that I not only admire their talent, but also their very focused working style. Nothing can distract them from their goal: to win. Sure, they are different in their approach…

Q: How so?
 Well, maybe you could say that Nico (Rosberg) has a Teutonic way of approaching things. That starts with his daily routine and ends with how he solves problems. Lewis’ approach is more emotional – and he has a lot of emotions. But if you look at the lap times, both ways work equally well – it’s only a different avenue! (laughs)

Q: How far are you on your way to rebuilding the team? What is the main focus for the next couple of weeks? Hiring? Firing?
 I am in a very exciting situation as I get to know the people around me better and better and can judge their contribution. It is not about revamping everything – it is all about nuances. I am speaking with everybody, I am listening – and I give my opinion. I want to establish a structure that exudes success. Of course what I do is based on experience from my other businesses, and not necessarily from running an F1 team, but success is spelt the same anywhere.

Q: What is the most useful lesson you’ve learned so far in your short new career?
 To understand what it needs to make Ross function – or how he functions.

Q: And how is that?
 Extremely structured. Accurate. Focused on sustainable results and not on short-term optimization. An excellent manager who gives his people room.

Q: It’s still a young season – how do you expect 2013 to progress? Mercedes have obviously got to build both an engine and a chassis for 2014 so at some point you’ll have to make pragmatic decisions…
 We’re already working on 2014 and we’ll gradually raise the percentage of people working on next year’s car. I would say that in May we will reach a point where more than 50 percent will work on the 2014 car.

Q: What will that mean?
 There is no doubt that at a point in the summer everybody will switch their main resources to the 2014 car, as this is a very complex and complicated machine. Of course it all depends on where you are in the standings. Those who are fighting for the title will of course concentrate longer on this year’s car.

Q: When everything is said and done at the end of November, what do you want to go home with?
 I want to be among the four top teams in the constructors’ championship and have a driver among the top four as well.Toto_Wolff_2010


Fernando Alonso Q&A: Ferrari not yet the car to beat

images After his dramatic early exit in Malaysia, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso fought back with a convincing win in China last weekend, and now lies third in the standings, nine points shy of leader Sebastian Vettel. So what has the former champion made of 2013’s opening rounds, are what are his and the Scuderia’s prospects for the Bahrain weekend and beyond? Alonso discussed these and other issues – including his friendship with Mark Webber – with the media in Sakhir on Thursday…

Q: After three races, would you have predicted the current championship standings?
Fernando Alonso: The first races are usually the ones where one can see the potential of the different teams, and where you have to learn how to deal with the new rules and regulations. This year it is very much the learning curve on how to deal with the tyres that we are all currently occupied with. In general I don’t think that the championship standings are very important yet, but they are also not a big surprise at the same time, as for example Lewis (Hamilton) is one of the best drivers on the grid, and he had put McLaren into a very competitive position last year, and is doing the same with Mercedes this year. So once more he has proved his talent. Also we all know that the Red Bulls are very strong and we will count with them again, and also Kimi (Raikkonen) had a fantastic start of the season – he is driving better than anyone else at the moment and also he clearly deserves to be there.

Q: How satisfied are you personally with the win at the last race, and how satisfying was it to not see your main competitor of recent years with you on the podium?
FA: Of course I was very happy, as not winning for some time is clearly a difficult matter for oneself and the team. It has been for sure 11 or 12 races that we haven’t properly won the race, although we have managed to be on the podium constantly. But also there have been a lot of other very good drivers with a competitive car that have not won either for 15 or 16 races. But what we have understood is that it is not only important to win a race, but to be consistently on the podium. Not to have had Sebastian (Vettel) on the podium is for sure good news at this stage of the championship, as he is leading it, but it would be the same with Lewis or Mark (Webber) if they were in the lead.

Q: Do you have the feeling that yours is the car to beat at the moment under race conditions?
FA: I don’t really think so, as I do not see the advantage that others see after one victory. In Australia we were obviously not the quickest, and in Malaysia we were even struggling a little bit, and Felipe (Massa) was only fifth, so he was not dominating the race. Also in China, if you look at the race pace I think Sebastian was the quickest. Maybe Red Bull has chosen a wrong qualifying strategy and therefore they compromised their race. For us it is clear that we need to keep improving, and be a little faster. We hope to achieve this with introducing new components here, in Barcelona and Monaco. So I hope that during the next few weeks we can close up to the level of the best cars.

Q: Do you see any effect on the Red Bull team because of the internal situation their drivers have?
FA: To be honest I don’t think that there is much effect, as once you arrive at the track you separate from your team mate and have your meetings with your own group of engineers and mechanics, and you really focus on your own work. So both of them concentrate on their own schedule. I just think that Mark needs to regain his luck again, as China was just bad luck, and then he will be as strong as ever.

Q: You were seen having dinner with Mark Webber this week. Was there a special reason for this?
FA: Mark and I have known each other now for almost 13 years and we have a very good relationship, and not only because we have been working both with Flavio Briatore. So there doesn’t need to be a special reason to have dinner together, as it is quite normal that friends have dinner together. And Mark is feeling quite good and confident at the moment, knowing that he has got a very competitive car and that there are still many races to come in this season.

Source: http://www.formula1.com

Exclusive Lewis Hamilton Q&A: We are way faster than I expected

ay_102947901-e1359986497116  When it was announced late last year that Lewis Hamilton would be leaving McLaren to join Mercedes in 2013, there was considerable shock in the paddock. But after three races – and two podium finishes – Hamilton’s bold decision looks to have paid immediate dividends. We caught up with the 2008 world champion in Bahrain to discuss, amongst other things, what’s gone right at Mercedes and what might be going wrong at his old team…

Q: Lewis, you must laugh at all those who predicted that your career would go south when you joined Mercedes. How does it feel proving them all wrong?
Lewis Hamilton: It feels nice! (laughs) It is good to walk around with my head up and smile at all those who have helped me in my decision and gave me the opportunity. I also feel good about myself. I have really thought it through and it is great to see now that the team is doing so well and that I can contribute to that success.

Q: Can it be that you are the one who is most surprised about the current situation?
LH: No, not really. I remember meeting with Ross (Brawn) before I signed; he came to my house and we sat down and he told me all the plans and I have been in the sport long enough to understand what he was talking about. I could see that Mercedes were en route to making some very positive changes – that they were really, really determined to turn things around. He showed me what potential there was in the car and I thought ‘wow, this sounds good’. Of course I didn’t know how good it would be and, to be honest, I never expected it to be as good as it is now. I thought it would be a slow but steady improvement – but it is way faster than I expected.

Q: The McLaren was the fastest car on the grid at the end of last season and the Mercedes was sometimes two seconds off the pace, but now – after three races – Mercedes is way ahead of McLaren. Would you have believed that if somebody had told you so?
LH: Definitely not. That is probably the biggest surprise – where we are in relation to them. The McLaren at the end of last year was awesome – the quickest car on the grid – and usually if you have the quickest car and there are not massive changes in the regulations you carry that into the next year. So it should, again, be a quick and awesome car, but for some reason – I don’t know why – it hasn‘t happened that way. But that is not my concern anymore! (laughs) And take Mercedes: they had a car that was nowhere, and look – we had a pole position last weekend! What a great feeling that was – it is a beautiful car to drive.

Q: So that marathon of improvement actually turned out to be a sprint…
LH: Ah, it’s not that easy. We still have a lot of work to do. It is still early in the season and we can still have bad races. But fingers crossed that won’t happen.

Q: What is going so wrong at your old team, McLaren?
LH: I don’t really know – I haven’t even spoken to the drivers about what is happening there. It surely has something to do with the downforce on the car. It was there all last year but probably they tweaked something. I thought that the car looked the same, but I was told that they’ve changed the car completely. They’ve probably made some big decisions which they thought would translate into big gains, but that hasn’t happened. Actions like that are not unusual with McLaren. I have experienced that in the past, particularly in 2009 and in 2010 as well. So it’s not unheard of that they make drastic changes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Q: And what’s going so right in your current team, Mercedes? The winter tests weren’t that promising – and suddenly you have a pole in China and two podium places so far…
LH: I think that they’ve been lost before. They have even said that. The aerodynamics, the wind tunnel – people were in the wrong place – so they took a step back and tried to analyse everything and move things into the right position. The car has just been on a positive curve since they changed the wind tunnel – since they made all these changes within the last half year – and they’ve been improving at a very serious rate.

Q: And obviously with you they’ve put the right man in the cockpit…
LH: Hopefully. I’ve tried to be as helpful as possible. But even if they didn’t get the results last year, this is a fantastic team and they clearly had the ability back then – but sometimes you just get lost. Even with McLaren – such a great team – they have troubles now. It is so easy to lose your way and it is so hard to find it again. I am so glad that Mercedes have now found it.

Q: We hear that there will be no more team order at Mercedes. Were you surprised that there was one issued in the first place?
LH: True, I haven’t been in that position for a long time and obviously it came as a surprise. I tell you, it is not the greatest of experiences. After the race, as we sat down and talked, I understood the situation and now I feel a lot more positive about it, but also we must make sure that we are never in such a position again.

Q: Without a robust ego you don’t get anywhere in F1 racing. How much elbow room should there be for a driver?
LH: Oh yes. (laughs) Wow, that’s an interesting question – I have never been asked that before. Let me think: I feel that I am fully a team player. Of course when you are driving and are in the position that Nico (Rosberg) was in, he had to put his own ego to one side. Even for me, my ego was affected by it because my team mate was quicker than me at the point, and that is something a driver never wants to see – that his team mate is faster.

Q: So at that point you were both losers – you because he was faster, and Nico because you bagged his podium?
LH: Let’s put it this way: it was a win-lose, win-lose situation.

Q: Your lapse in Malaysia when trying to pit at the wrong team caused much laughter. But in reality, how much contact do you still have with McLaren? You’ve grown up with them so a new contract can hardly cut off such deep roots…
LH: I went to see them in Australia. But I also tried to see them in Jerez, at the test, and there Sam Michael threw me out of the garage. That wasn’t very positive and I don’t feel very good about that. Martin (Whitmarsh) has been great and I have to say that I haven’t had enough contact, so I will give Martin a call.

Q: You’ve looked more concentrated since you joined Mercedes, but you also seem to laugh less – at least during your working hours. Why?
LH: Really? Maybe it is that I have so much to take in at the moment. I don’t have time to laugh and chill. When I was at McLaren I was at the top of everything – I knew everything: what the car was doing, how people reacted – so it was a lot easier as I knew exactly how I wanted to have my car set up. Here I have so much more work to do with the engineers – so many new, different things on the car that I still don’t fully understand – so I have no time to mess around. But don’t get me wrong: I am still having a great time.

Q: From Barcelona onwards, there has been talk of Pirelli looking at the tyre situation. If they made changes would the racing lose the current spice and is there really such suffering at the moment? The way the tyres are now seems to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of drivers…
LH: I don’t know what’s coming our way, any improvement is welcomed and will be very positive. And about the wheat and the chaff; that’s not really so. The more balls you can juggle the better you are – all the different techniques you have to do to look after your tyres the better you are as a driver – and that is the challenge. So hopefully after Barcelona there will be fewer balls that we have to juggle.

Q: A pole position and two P3 finishes. Isn’t it about time to count down?
LH: Well, yes, second place is the next position. One step at a time. I don’t want to shoot straight at P1 – but of course if it comes, it comes. I am not saying ‘we have to win’. So if we move forward – a second place and then a first – that would be fantastic. So my target for this weekend is to finish higher than last weekend. And all signals suggest that we can do it. I feel very positive for this weekend. Sure it is a very tough track for tyre degradation, but generally I’ve always been quite quick here. So I’ll keep fingers crossed to end up in a better position than last weekend. (laughs)

Source: http://www.formula1.com/news/interviews/2013/4/14473.html

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