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F1: Toto Wolff welcomes Mercedes rivalry

Manama: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he is expecting Sunday’s Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix to be hard-fought even though the team’s drivers have topped the timesheets so far in 2014.

The team arrived in Bahrain on the back of a superb start to the season, with Nico Rosberg winning in Australia and Lewis Hamilton leading his teammate home for a Mercedes one-two in Malaysia.

And Wolff was optimistic ahead of this weekend as well. “Bahrain is a circuit that should suit our car,” he told Gulf News.

“The long straights will enable our Mercedes-Benz power to show its full performance and we have a good chassis in the slow speed corners and high-speed turns. However, we will never underestimate our competition. Red Bull will be dangerous, Ferrari too. And our customer teams like Williams and McLaren will be running the same engine as us,” the 42-year-old Executive Director of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team and Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport added.

The two weeks previously spent in Bahrain for the winter testing programme gave the team time to tune the car to the circuit and its requirements.

“We performed well during the testing phase and we have enjoyed two strong races since then, with two wins and a second place. So we are expecting a close fight for pole position and a hard-fought race on Sunday,” he said.

“We will have the interest of the first night race in Bahrain, which will add a new dimension to the event. It should be a fantastic spectacle again on track this weekend, which is exactly what our fans round the world are tuning in for.”

Commenting on Mercedes’ performance in 2014, he said the team had experienced “ups and downs during the pre-season tests, with two challenging days in particular right at the end.”

“Like every team, we really had to step things up to the next level before the first race in Australia. That weekend left us with mixed emotions. Neither of our drivers put a foot wrong all weekend but unfortunately only one [Rosberg] came away with the result he deserved. Then, in Malaysia, we came away very proud of our achievements.”

However, he insisted that the good start did not leave any room for complacency.

“After two races we are leading both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. But the most important thing to take from that is that it has only been two races: in this business, everybody forgets very quickly what happened yesterday,” he said.

“We are in the very early stages of what will be a demanding year for everybody and we have seen already that fortunes can change very quickly. We approach each race with the same mentality as we approach every challenge: in the knowledge that nothing must be taken for granted.”

Aside from dealing with the tough competition, the team has to make sure that the rivalry developing between former world champion Hamilton and Rosberg does not deepen as the season unfolds.

“We have had those conversations and I think it is important to do so. Our drivers are not only very fast but also very intelligent. They have known each other for quite a long time and they have been teammates before back in their karting days,” Wolff said.

“They treat each other in a very fair way. We went through some of the scenarios and I think we are in a good place.

“Of course there is rivalry between the drivers. They are competitive creatures by nature and the first person any driver must beat is their teammate. This is the same within any team. What is important, and what we have made very clear from the beginning, is that they drive for Mercedes and the team always comes first.

“We will most likely have to deal with this situation at some stage, but both Lewis and Nico are intelligent and respectful enough to make the right decisions.”

Wolff believes the sweeping rule changes brought in to Formula One this season should be seen as a positive, saying: “We have seen a lot of changes this year. Like any change, it has positive aspects, some that are less positive, but it is the right direction for the sport.

“The new hybrid engines are jewels of high technology. With a smaller engine and cutting-edge hybrid systems, we are developing more power than last year — and using over 30 per cent less fuel. This is the way of the future for motorsport and also for road cars. For the first time in a decade, we are developing technology that can help improve the passenger cars of the future,” he said.

“The cars are spectacular to watch. The drivers are struggling to control the rear end because of the increased torque and reduced downforce. They are not just steering the cars, they are really driving them now. That makes for an exciting show.

“There has been a lot of discussion about the noise of the new cars. It is important that we do not rush judgement — but also that we respect the views of our customers, the fans. It is a new noise — a futuristic sound with the noise of the turbochargers, the engine and other electric machines, too. It is something I enjoy.

“This new direction, focused on future technologies, is a very interesting one for our existing partners. It projects a very positive image for companies who wish to associate themselves with cutting-edge solutions and with developing the technology of the future.”