7 April 2014
Bahrain F1 Grand Prix: Wolff insists 'We want them to race'
There will be no team orders at Mercedes F1 - that was the message from Toto Wolff even after his two drivers went wheel-to-wheel in search of victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes motorsport boss Tot Wolff has reiterated that the German marque will not impose any sort of restraint on its drivers, despite the nail-biting way they fought over victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The battle for the lead between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was just one of the highlights of an entertaining race, although Wolff admitted that it was a little nerve-wracking at times for the Mercedes pit wall. Despite how close the two cars came to each other as Rosberg sought a way through, both at the start of the race and again in the final ten laps, Wolff was adamant that there was no attempt to fix the running order, even when technical chief Paddy Lowe came on the radio to both drivers during the safety car period.
“It wasn't [code to hold station] at all,” he insisted, “and we weren't worried [that the instruction would be misinterpreted by the public] because the message was exactly the same to both of them. In the moment before the heat would start [to rise again], it was just to say 'don't forget what we discussed'. It was not at all a strategic call, just a gentle reminder of where we came from.”
'Where we came from' and the image of the Mercedes brand is clearly important to Wolff, and he does not want to see it sullied either by the spectre of team orders or the sight of its two drivers pushing their rivalry over the edge. Fortunately, for now at least, the respect between them remains mutual, with hugs and back-slapping accompanying them onto the podium.
“You need to have the drivers understand where the team came from and not risk the image of such a brand - and they did it in a fantastic and spectacular way,” Wolff noted, “Okay, at turn three at the start of the race, I had doubts - I was like 'no, please, not for one-and-a-half hours now....' and then, at the end, at the restart, we discussed whether we could trust the drivers and they proved that [we could].
“[We will continue like this] until we lose some front wings and then we will sit down again and discuss if this was the [right] strategy…. No, they are racing drivers, so it is all academic...”
Putting the two drivers onto different strategies at their first tyre stops was also not designed to keep them apart on track, according to Wolff, but something that had been mulled over during pre-race planning meetings.
“We would never have split them, we want them to race,” he repeated, “We knew that the second car could only win if we offset it on the strategy, but both cars were on a strategy to win the race.
“We discussed the strategy in a meeting this morning, and the two strategies - with prime in the middle and prime at the end - were a couple of tenths off at the end of the race, so there was no good or worse strategy. They were both nearly equal in terms of race time.
“[Rosberg winning on the option tyre] was the safer theory [after the safety car] but Lewis had an amazing couple of laps on the prime. We saw that one of the Force Indias proved to be very quick on the prime too, so there wasn't a huge gap between the two tyres.”
The battle for the lead – as well as those further down the field, notably between team-mates at Williams and Force India – would have gone along way to silencing comments uttered in the paddock before the race, suggesting that the sport had been diluted by the new regulations and was no longer a spectacle.
“Obviously, it is great watching two drivers of that level racing each other fair and square, not risking the other car, and still delivering a mega show,” Wolff concluded, “It doesn't get any better as advertising for F1 in a moment where a lot of people were talking F1 down.”
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