Red Bull's F1 assault has eased pressure on Mercedes, says Wolff

After its run of Formula 1 title successes, you could forgive Mercedes if it felt the pressure of Red Bull’s challenge this year was a bit uncomfortable. 

But despite little separating F1’s top two teams, in a contest that has got quite heated at times, the message coming out of the current world champion outfit is the complete opposite to what you would expect. 

Rather than feel burdened at potentially the biggest threat it has had to its F1 dominance, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the German car manufacturer has actually had a sense of liberation from it. 

For after years of domination, where the team’s motivation to push on was fuelled by the fear of it eventually being toppled from the top, Wolff says that he and his staff have been empowered by being in a fight where it has everything to win. 

Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com about whether the early season excitement about the challenge had been replaced by increased stress levels caused by Red Bull’s pace-setting form, Wolff said: “It eased off actually, because all these years we had the pressure of: we can't possibly lose.  

“Now it changed to: this is ours to win, because the odds were against us. So there is suddenly an easiness in the approach that starts to take over, which makes it quite enjoyable.  

“Your expectations change. There is no sense of entitlement. This is what we've seen in other sports teams when the expectations are set so high that it becomes even unacceptable to lose.  

“And I think with us, we conditioned ourselves. We set the expectations realistically, and we have just enjoyed the journey of getting us back in a position where we would be able to fight.” 

This season is not the first time during its dominant turbo-hybrid years. that Mercedes has faced a title threat. 

For Ferrari pushed it pretty hard in 2018/2019, when the Italian outfit had made some eye-opening gains with its power unit that would later prove to be a bone of contention with rivals. 

Comparing the pressures of that battle with Ferrari, compared to what Mercedes faces with Red Bull now, and Wolff is clear about when his squad felt most under the cosh. 

“The Ferrari years felt more intense, because I think at that stage, we were so keen in proving that we weren’t a one-hit wonder,” he explains. 

“We wanted to really create a legacy of being the top team for a few years, and now we've achieved that. We have won seven times in a row, which wasn't done in any other sport on a world championship level.  

“With that, suddenly, that easiness came into play. We are still very ambitious and competitive. But the anxiety of losing has lost its edge. We still hate it, but it is less detrimental to your own well-being.” 

New regulation feel

Mercedes W12 floor detail

Mercedes W12 floor detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

One of the defining factors in the closeness of the title battle this year between Mercedes and Red Bull was the change in aero regulations. 

In a bid to cut back on downforce, the FIA made changes to the floor dimensions, which are widely believed to have hurt the low rake cars like Mercedes more than their high rake rivals. 

Looking back at when the reality of that situation hit home, Wolff says that initially the team had felt upbeat that it would claw back the losses. 

“When the regulation change happened [to be agreed] pretty early in the 2020 season, we thought that we can crawl it back in terms of downforce,” he said. 

“But it appears that in relative performance we didn't catch up as much as we thought we could. 

“So we started the season expecting to be catching up, but then obviously we had these early successes.  

“Looking at Bahrain, we probably shouldn't have won the race on pure car pace, but we did. And since the beginning of the season we were always with a slight deficit, apart from maybe Barcelona and Portimao.” 

Read Also:

Wolff says that impact of the floor changes were such that Mercedes had to relearn the car as though it was a season with completely new regulations. 

“I think this year has been for us, rediscovering the sweet spot of the car,” he said. 

“All these years we run the car around a certain configuration, and when suddenly the downforce loss happened on the rear end of the floor, we just needed to rediscover it and find the performance elsewhere. 

“We had good weekends and worse weekends, but for us it was really like starting the season with new regulations: contrary to what some of our competitors had.” 

Red Bull relations 

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Toto Wolff, Executive Director (Business), Mercedes AMG, and Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The fight between Red Bull and Mercedes has not just been intense on track, for there have been a fair share of battles off it too. 

As well as the politicking over flexi rear wings, tyre pressures and pitstops, tensions between Wolff and Red Bull boss Christian Horner erupted in the wake of comments made following the British GP crash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. 

Wolff is very clear on one thing: that the flash points between Mercedes and Red Bull may be more down to personal disagreements of the bosses rather than the two entire organisations  being at war. 

“It's very important to not generalise Red Bull or Mercedes,” he explained. “It is very much a team sport, and there are individuals involved. 

“Just because certain individuals don't go on well with each other, it doesn't mean that you are disrespecting the other entity and the people that work there, who are trying to do the best possible job in order to fulfil their own dreams and overcome their own worries.  

“So there is always respect for these organisations, and for the people in the organisations, and for the people in the teams.” 

Asked if he was surprised at the way the relations between Red Bull and Mercedes broke down, Wolff said: “The relationships were never splendid, and that comes from the sheer competition that we have.  

“But I would say that in the in the war of words, we have tried to maintain our cool, stay level-headed and not fuel controversy and polarisation among our fans even more.  

“The aim was always to de-escalate. Unfortunately, the opposite happens on the other side.” 

F1’s 2021 battle at the top is far from over yet.  

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, battles with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

The departing figurehead involved in F1's two most dominant teams

Previous article

The departing figurehead involved in F1's two most dominant teams

Next article

Norris feels he found balance between joker and serious on social media

Norris feels he found balance between joker and serious on social media
Load comments
The times that suggest Verstappen should be confident of F1 Russian GP recovery Prime

The times that suggest Verstappen should be confident of F1 Russian GP recovery

For the second race in a row, Mercedes has ended the first day of track action on top. It’s in a commanding position at the Russian Grand Prix once again – this time largely thanks to Max Verstappen’s upcoming engine-change grid penalty. But there’s plenty to suggest all hope is not lost for the championship leader at Sochi...

Why dumping the MGU-H is the right move for F1 Prime

Why dumping the MGU-H is the right move for F1

OPINION: With its days apparently numbered, the MGU-H looks set to be dropped from Formula 1’s future engine rules in order to entice new manufacturers in. While it may appear a change of direction, the benefits for teams and fans could make the decision a worthwhile call

Formula 1
Sep 23, 2021
The floundering fortunes of F1’s many Lotus reboots Prime

The floundering fortunes of F1’s many Lotus reboots

Team Lotus ceased to exist in 1994 - and yet various parties have been trying to resurrect the hallowed name, in increasingly unrecognisable forms, ever since. Damien Smith brings GP Racing’s history of the legendary team to an end with a look at those who sought to keep the flame alive in Formula 1.

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2021
Why the 2021 title fight is far from F1's worst, despite its toxic background Prime

Why the 2021 title fight is far from F1's worst, despite its toxic background

OPINION: Formula 1 reconvenes for the Russian Grand Prix two weeks after the latest blow in ‘Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton’. While the Silverstone and Monza incidents were controversial, they thankfully lacked one element that so far separates the 2021 title fight from the worst examples of ugly championship battles

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2021
How Mika Hakkinen thrived at Lotus Prime

How Mika Hakkinen thrived at Lotus

Mika Hakkinen became Michael Schumacher’s biggest rival in Formula 1 in the late-90s and early 2000s, having also made his F1 debut in 1991. But as MARK GALLAGHER recalls, while Schumacher wowed the world with a car that was eminently capable, Hakkinen was fighting to make his mark with a famous team in terminal decline

Formula 1
Sep 21, 2021
The forgotten F1 comeback that began Jordan’s odyssey  Prime

The forgotten F1 comeback that began Jordan’s odyssey 

Before Michael Schumacher – or anyone else – had driven the 191 (or 911 as it was initially called), Eddie Jordan turned to a fellow Irishman to test his new Formula 1 car. JOHN WATSON, a grand prix winner for Penske and McLaren, recalls his role in the birth of a legend…

Formula 1
Sep 20, 2021
The squandered potential of a 70s F1 underdog Prime

The squandered potential of a 70s F1 underdog

A podium finisher in its first outing but then never again, the BRM P201 was a classic case of an opportunity squandered by disorganisation and complacency, says Stuart Codling.

Formula 1
Sep 18, 2021
The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from Prime

The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from

OPINION: The headlines were dominated by the Italian Grand Prix clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who had the halo to thank for avoiding potentially serious injury. But two days earlier, Formula 1 had a lucky escape with a Monza pitlane incident that could also have had grave consequences.

Formula 1
Sep 17, 2021