Formula One: Mercedes' Wolff brushes off protest talk over cars

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said Mercedes was completely relaxed about the situation regarding clever hydraulic suspension systems.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said Mercedes was completely relaxed about the situation regarding clever hydraulic suspension systems.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has shrugged off fears of a potential protest against his cars at next month's season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

The pre-season has seen plenty of speculation about clever hydraulic suspension systems since Ferrari sought a clarification about the regulations from the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA).

Some paddock insiders, such as Force India technical director Andy Green this week, have suggested that the question could lead to a protest against certain teams to force a decision.

Such action cannot be taken until the Melbourne race weekend since there are no restrictions on what teams can use on their cars in pre-season testing.

Wolff told reporters at the launch of his team's new car on Thursday, however, that he was completely relaxed about the situation.

"There have been discussions in the TRM (technical regulations meeting) around suspensions and legality," said the Austrian. "As far as Mercedes is concerned, I am very confident and comfortable with the situation.

"We know what the rules say and what you are allowed and not allowed to do. I think it is the usual kicking at the beginning of the season, and it is not something that is worrying for us."

Mercedes, whose cars will start testing in Barcelona on Monday, have won the last three drivers' and constructors' titles but may have more of a fight on their hands this season due to rule changes, which have produced faster cars on bigger tyres.

They have a new technical director in James Allison from Ferrari with Paddy Lowe having departed.

Finland's Valtteri Bottas has replaced retired world champion Nico Rosberg as team-mate to Britain's Lewis Hamilton.

"Sometimes you need to re-calibrate in order to stay successful, and we've done that," said Wolff. "Disruption can be a very positive factor in a company's development.

"So when Nico decided to call it a day... we quickly realised it provided opportunity. In terms of Paddy, it's a little bit the same.

"You can either have a philosophy of never change a winning team or try to emphasise what's important for the future."

Wolff also said Bottas will be free to race Hamilton but "rules of engagement" will remain in place to avoid any controversy.

The Austrian said that Bottas will be given joint-billing with his more experienced team-mate.

The 27-year-old Finn also said that he will not be satisfied to play the role of sidekick.

"If I thought I couldn't compare or if I couldn't be quicker than Lewis then I would rather stay at home," Bottas said.

"It is a big learning curve for me but I do believe in my skills and I do believe it is possible to beat him.

"I see no reason why we couldn't be able to work professionally and as a good pair of team-mates; race very hard on the track, but fair."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Mercedes' Wolff brushes off protest talk over cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe