Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has likened adjusting to Formula 1’s impending budget cap to climbing Mount Everest.
As one of F1’s ‘big three’, and the double world championship-winning squad of the last six years, the Mercedes-AMG Formula One Team arguably has the most to lose from the USD 145 million cap which takes effect next year.
That figure also represents a reduction already on the USD 175 million which was confirmed last year, before COVID-19 hit, with the cap to fall again in 2022 and 2023.
Wolff revealed that he found the downtime during the pandemic frustrating, stating in a Formula 1 vodcast, “It has been definitely surreal, and everybody who tells me that they love spending more time at home, I don’t quite believe it, because we’re in a fast-paced environment.
“We work in some kind of frame, we know when we go racing, we know when we go back to the office, and we know when we go home. Suddenly it’s like pulling a plug out. I miss the competition.”
The Austrian said that the significant regulatory changes agreed in May have, however, created work for Mercedes.
While he has expressed support for the budget cap and another of the other more notable measures, namely an aerodynamic testing handicap, Wolff stressed that it is a major challenge for the Silver Arrows.
“The elephant in the room is that with the 2021 cost cap kicking in, big teams and particularly Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, we need to adapt, we need to change processes, how we do things, how we develop, how we spend on innovation and R&D,” he said.
“That has been a Mount Everest to climb, and that has been the project that has kept many of us very busy.”
F1 returns this weekend with the first of two rounds on consecutive weekends at the Red Bull Ring.
Wolff cautioned against reading too much into pre-season, when Valtteri Bottas was quickest in both of the February tests in a Mercedes, in Austria.
“I think it’s always a risk to assume that what you see in testing is going to be the performance on track,” he asserted.
“If you look back to 2019 and then what happened in Australia, it was totally different.
“So, we were travelling to Australia (this year) not expecting to have an easy run there, but expecting quite some competition. You could see the eagerness of some within the room (when the event’s cancellation was discussed) to race, because they felt they had a great car.
“In that respect, I have no doubt it will be the usual suspects, maybe with some surprises. I think that Racing Point has a very strong car and has been showing promising lap times in Barcelona, I have no doubt that McLaren and Renault will play a role, so just wait and see.
“I’m always one on the careful side. I think we will have a first indication on Saturday afternoon at 3pm (Qualifying), and then on Sunday we shall see who has been able to have the best package.”
Those races will take place behind closed doors, one of several measures designed with the aim of infection prevention and control.
Wolff believes that if the field can put on exciting contests, it will make up for the lack of interaction at the race track.
“I think we know what to do, I think we know that protecting our staff and everybody who attends is the main priority,” he remarked.
“But equally, it’s new ground, we’ve never been in this situation. We’re talking a lot about bubbles, less interaction with the other teams, you guys (media) and the fans, and that will be a new experience.
“F1 has always been able to take out the positives, and if we’re able to provide a great show on Saturday and Sunday I think that’s going to compensate for the weirdness.”
Practice for the Austrian Grand Prix starts on Friday at 19:00 AEST.