29 December 2015
Wolff: Mercedes could loosen reins to enliven F1
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could be allowed to 'go their own way' on strategy in a Mercedes bid to avoid its dominance damaging both F1 and its own popularity.
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has admitted that allowing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg more freedom could be the key to avoiding a Red Bull-style fall from F1 grace.
However, the Austrian is not concerned about the Three Pointed Star suddenly becoming uncompetitive, rather that the double world champion could lose the support of F1 fans by dominating the sport as its once-radical rival did for four straight seasons.
“If you start to win, you run around with a target on your back and people will try to shoot you,” Wolff told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, “Our dominance is bad for F1. It becomes predictable how the result is going to be. The sport needs multiple winners. It needs the odd freak result. It needs the underdog to win. The moment you become a dominant force, you suffer and your brand suffers. You become the dark side of the force.
“It happened to Red Bull. They joined the sport. They were the Jedis. They jumped in the pool when they finished third in Monaco. They had the Formula Unas, the girls around the paddock. They had the Red Bulletin. They were controversial. They had a superb brand. But after winning the world title four times in a row, they developed into an unsympathetic brand. Nobody wants the establishment. If you start to behave like the establishment, you are finished and people will have animosity against you.”
The good of the sport may not be what is good for Mercedes, however, leaving Wolff with the sort of dilemma no team boss wants to face – threatening personnel success for the greater good. Despite that, the 43-year old hinted that he could consider opening up the Silver Arrows assault to bring a little more intrigue – and excitement - to F1.
“I want the dominance to continue but, if it were to continue like this, I need to think what to do so we do not become the enemy and how we can help the show,” he conceded, “Maybe it's about unleashing [the drivers] completely. Make them have their own strategy cars. That would be a solution.”
There is little doubt that Hamilton and Rosberg would jump at the chance to 'go their own way' given the antipathy that exists between them. Indeed, the Briton ended the season asking whether he could do anything to deviate from the pre-arranged strategy in his bid to end a three-race run of Rosberg wins. Despite agreeing with the decision to deny Hamilton on those occasions, Wolff may be relenting ahead of 2016.
“We had a more relaxed approach this year, letting them fight it out on the track and it might have a new dimension next year,” he confirmed, “I want to contain it. I don't want fighting in the team [but], for F1, the volcanic eruptions may be what's needed between them. Maybe the big fall-out ending in a crash and animosity, in terms of the entertainment factor, maybe that's what's missing with Mercedes being so dominant. Maybe you need that, but fundamentally, I don't think we need that as a team.”
Confirming that Hamilton and Rosberg will continue in tandem next season, Wolff revealed that he was wary of the team's relationship with its drivers dissolving completely should he not retain a degree of transparency in its dealings with them.
“You need to respect that each individual in the car has been a maverick alone in the car since he was six or seven and how can you expect the guy not to be looking after himself,” he reasoned, “Complaining on the radio is okay. You're in the heat of the moment. You have a lot of pressure on you. It's what happens inside.
“But the great ones understand that they need a team to make them world champions. The ones who have never made it have never understood that. It is a very difficult exercise for the two boys in the car. They need to embrace the team spirit but, equally, they need to screw the other guy.”
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