Toto Wolff happy that Mercedes have cards to play still

Austrian tells David Tremayne in Melbourne that he's confident – as his team can keep some powder dry

As if Mercedes’ grand-prix dominance was already not enough, their team boss Toto Wolff revealed ahead of the new season on Friday that they have a trick up their sleeve that will put them further ahead of their track rivals.

Last year Mercedes produced the top two drivers in the standings by a wide margin in champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and themselves ran away with the constructors’ title. They are already favourites to repeat that success this season, beginning on Saturday with the Australian Grand Prix here.

But the trick up Mercedes’ sleeve which could see their two cars go even faster are tokens. The sport’s world governing body gives each team 32 tokens before a new season which have to be “spent” each time that team makes an engine development.

Two of Mercedes’ main rivals, Ferrari and Renault, have already had to use up most of their tokens in order to try and catch up with the German manufacturer. Which leaves Wolff in the driving seat. “I’m not sure I want to say where we have ended up on engine development, but let’s say that we have a 20 per-cent token buffer which we can introduce later.”

This means Mercedes have around six tokens left at a time when their engine is still clearly the best, to use later in the season to make their cars perform even better.

But Wolff refuses to be repentant if it means that the winner of races might become a foregone conclusion. Beating everyone else, after all, is the name of the game. “All three of us, Nico, Lewis and me, are paid to gain advantage over the opposition, to have the quickest car and to drive it as hard as possible,” he says.

 

“I wish we could have that ‘problem’ of being able to cruise to victory, as some people think we did last year, but I can tell you that in 2014 there was not one single place where we did not push all the way to the finish. And I can tell you with regard to this season too, that cruising isn’t going to happen.”

Especially as Wolff has noted improvement among his rivals. “We are quick, yes, but it was still testing. What we have seen is that we have done a solid job. Our car is quick and reliable, but we have seen that Ferrari have taken a step ahead, and the GPS data says that their performance is spot on, though we don’t know respective fuel loads. Williams look good too,  and we must never write off Red Bull.”

At times last season things got more than a little fraught between Hamilton and his team-mate Rosberg, most notably in Belgium where the latter won after they collided. That led Wolff to bare his fangs and word is that Rosberg was threatened with dismissal, and fined a six-figure sum.

And there could be more tense battles this season, after Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda confirmed that the two drivers will be allowed to race each other free of team orders this season. “Absolutely, right!” Wolff says. “We still believe that the drivers should be free to race each other, just as they were in 2014.

“Yes, there were times when things were tense last year, but, actually, managing Lewis and Nico is not that difficult a topic. In all our dealings we are all open and transparent. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don’t agree. But always we are positive.”

Wolff admits that Hamilton’s attention to detail in recent contractual negotiations has impressed him, and while things aren’t yet settled, they clearly will be soon.

“We are good and it’s a very interesting topic, but we have not set a deadline. If you do that it just puts you under pressure, and that isn’t necessary. Our negotiations have been very positive and we are down to details and we aim to do it as soon as possible. But right now it’s still ongoing. Hopefully, we will have some news soon.”

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