On the surface, a second consecutive winter of minimal regulatory change may appear to ease the pressure on the Formula One community. The reality, however, is quite the opposite. Progress under such conditions is a game of diminishing returns – making the quest for every millisecond of performance ever-more crucial.
“The biggest challenge for the team over the winter has been finding how we can extract more performance from what was already a very strong Power Unit and chassis concept”, confirms Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff. “The regulations have remained mostly stable for another year, so the development curve has naturally started to level out slightly. But as a group of competitive racers, this is the sort of challenge we love – to find every last bit of performance.
“After the success of the past two seasons, the obvious target is to build on what we have achieved so far – to continue to win races and Championships. But you can never take anything for granted in this sport – or rely on past success. Right now, all points are reset to zero. We haven’t even begun testing yet, so we have no benchmark against the competition. But we can be certain that they will be stronger than ever, so we need to do the best job out there. In Melbourne, we will see. As they say, when the flag drops…
“We gained confidence after the first Championship title in 2014 and therefore approached 2015 in a slightly different way. But our core philosophy remained the same and 2016 is no different. We are confident in our people – but we always take a ‘glass half empty’ approach. We remain humble, feet on the ground, pushing hard to develop everything from the cars to our wider capability as an organisation in the long term.”
In the cockpit, the Brackley squad maintains an unchanged driver line-up with reigning World Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton once again paired with two-time title runner-up Nico Rosberg. Having locked horns for the Championship in each of the past two campaigns, this intra-team contest is sure to provide a fascinating plot line once more in 2016.
“The battle between Lewis and Nico is both interesting and challenging for us”, confirms Toto. “If you put two competitive drivers in the same team and they have a shot at the Championship, it’s never going to be an easy ride. Not only do we accept that, we embrace it. We also understand that it’s important for the spectators to see top drivers given both the tools they need to succeed and the freedom to race. This is what we’ve done for the past two years and will continue to do this year. They are both professionals. They know that there is a big organisation and a very powerful brand behind them and the team. I hope that the close competition between them will continue as it has done.”
And the talent in the Silver Arrows stable doesn’t stop at the wheel of the W07, either. Mercedes-Benz Juniors Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon head into the year with a fresh set of challenges to tackle in their development paths with the three-pointed star.
“Looking to the future, we are in both the fortunate and unfortunate position of having developed two of the very best junior drivers in the world but having no race seats available within our team”, says Toto. “We’re therefore delighted to have found them another route into Formula One to continue their growth in the best possible environment. Pascal has a race seat with Manor – a team with great people but one much smaller than Mercedes and with a very different structure to what he’s been used to, so he needs to prove that he has the calibre to be a successful Formula One driver in a new environment. Esteban, alongside his role in DTM, will be Third Driver with Renault – taking part in a couple of Friday practice sessions and tests to make the next step in his development. It’s great to see young drivers progressing all the way to Formula One on merit, through the support of manufacturers and proven programmes like the Red Bull Junior model. Hopefully this proves to be a productive year for them.”
Further afield, there’s change on the horizon for the pinnacle of motorsport. With 2017 set to buck the trend of regulatory stability, the future direction of Formula One is a hot topic throughout the paddock. And there are plenty of positive stories for the current season too…
“We are open to changes in the regulations”, says Toto. “On the Power Unit side we are perhaps a little more conservative because, when the teams and the FIA decided to introduce the V6 Hybrid package a few years ago, it was clear that a considerable development budget would need to be deployed. All four manufacturers did so relying on those rules – and now we need stability to protect that investment. On the chassis side and aerodynamic side, we embrace new challenges as long as they make sense. It’s important that the cars are quicker – that was demanded of the Strategy Group. But also that we still have overtaking and that driving becomes more of a challenge again. But putting these things into regulations is not easy.
“In the here and now, there are a lot of positive stories in Formula One at the moment. As a sport, I don’t think we talk about these enough. The return of Renault as a fully-fledged works team is great news – as is the arrival of Haas, which will hopefully help raise awareness of the sport in the States. For Mercedes as a brand, going back to Germany and finally being able to race in front of our home crowd again is brilliant. And then we have a new race in Baku, where most of us have never been before but which I’m sure will be an interesting experience. We have a 21 race calendar taking in almost all corners of the world, which will be a challenge for those working within the sport but provides a fantastic showcase for Formula One.”