Badger’s Sarah Merritt attended the launch of the Mercedes 2017 offering, the W08, at a very windy Silverstone circuit, where the assembled media and team partners were treated to the sight and sound of the new car as it completed filming laps, as well as a launch on the iconic pit straight.
(All photos by the author)
Here’s what the team and drivers had to say throughout the launch day:
On the outlook for 2017:
“The standard sentence is that all points go back to zero, and this season with the regulation change, not only have the points gone back to zero, but I think also if there is momentum, that is disturbed by a change of regulation. It provides opportunity, but it also provides risk, and for us, it’s a very exciting situation.
Once it was clear that those new regulations were going to happen, it provided so many new opportunities and the possibility to bring in some innovation.
We’ve set ourselves some exciting targets, and the ultimate results we are going to see after the first couple of races make this season more exciting than the last ones.”
On Valtteri joining the team:
“When I think about this year’s car, it’s the product of many people that have had a big influence, and we have two new individuals that will become part of the group, and obviously Valtteri a very prominent part of that as a driver.”
“There was a bit of a curve ball that Nico threw at us in December. We were all expecting to stop racing, go back to the factory, spend the weeks there with a normal office job looking after the structure and the organisation, and then suddenly, it was all back to competition mode almost.
It was interesting to find out how the driver market really looked, and within 48 hours we pretty much understood where almost all the drivers stood, and started to analyse who would be the best fit for the organisation. It comes down to speed, intelligence, development know-how, and also personality.”
On the arrival of James Allison:
“James is certainly one of the very exciting engineers in Formula 1, and somebody that we rated a lot as a competitor at Ferrari, and at Renault, and when we discussed it within the team, there was not one single voice that was sceptical about him joining. Sometimes you need to recalibrate to stay successful, and we’ve done that.”
On the “Rules of Engagement” between the drivers:
“There is an internal paper that has grown over the years with experience, and still, when you look at Abu Dhabi, it proved to have blank spots, so it is something that we want to continue to develop for the benefit of the team, the drivers and the spectators.
The basic concept will stay in place, and we will maybe call it differently and trim it a little, and add the bits that were missing, but not make it a complex internal regulation. We have to see how the season gets started as it may be completely different in terms of the dynamics between the drivers, and between teams, but the basic concept stays.”
On the upheaval of changes to the team:
“Disruption can be a very positive factor in a company’s development, so when Nico decided to call it a day, the initial information came as a surprise, but we quickly realised that it provided opportunity, and I think by having Valtteri in the car, this is an opportunity, an exciting one.”
On the awaited FIA clarification on hydraulic suspension systems:
“There have been discussions in the TRM (Technical Regulations Meeting) around suspension legality, and as far as Mercedes are 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, and I think it is the usual ‘kicking’ at the beginning of the season, and it is not something that is worrying for us.”
On the fan’s expectations of changes to Formula 1 under Liberty ownership:
“Of course, you are always limited by contracts, and also part of the success of Formula 1 was long-term contracts that give it stability, but that also means that probably you might not be able to change everything at one.
I think there will be some short-term changes of things that are possible to be implemented, at least from what we have heard in terms of enhancing the show, giving access to the paddock, giving teams and the media more rights, and the drivers too, so I think there are some things that are going to happen pretty quickly.”
Lewis joined us carrying his phone and live on Instagram to an audience of over 50,000 viewers. He then stood it on the table next to him so that fans could listen in on his media session, and engaged in a playful media session, clearly happy with his first experience of the 2017 car.
Here’s what he had to say:
First thoughts on the W08:
“It was incredible to be at the factory in the last week or so and see the guys putting the car together. It’s kind of crazy because you see the car growing in the wind tunnel with all the things they are trying, and then you see them down in the race bays, and from all the different sections of the factory, all those different components start coming together, like a jigsaw. Watching last night, undoubtedly, this car is the most detailed car that we have ever built as a team, and it shows the innovation and the technology are advancing, and the engineers’ knowledge of how to interpret design is evolving. It’s fascinating for me.
Today I drove it, and it was damp when I drove, so I was on the wet tyres initially, and the feeling wasn’t spectacular as it was quite gusty. Then we put the slick on when it had dried up a bit more, and I was pushing a little bit and had so much grip in Stowe as we had a headwind, which is the same as a race, where you’d have a headwind or a tailwind.
The car doesn’t actually feel that different, it’s a bit wider, but my seat position and whole cockpit are pretty much the same as before. We didn’t have max power or anything like that, so I don’t get to unleash it really until next week.”
On his mindset as he commences his 10th season in F1:
“My mindset is the same every year. I want to win. It’s a pretty simple mindset to have, and a lot harder actually to do that, but every year I want to grow and improve as a driver and as a human being. I think at the end of last year we had an incredible relationship, my engineers and mechanics, together through a difficult season where we won the last five races, so it is really to try and get back on that, start on the right foot, and continue in the same form as a unit as we did at the last race.”
On the 2017 cars:
“The car looks awesome – I think the cars look so much better than they have in the past. Whether or not that reflects in the racing and spectacle to the fans is yet to be seen, but I hope it is.”
On Formula 1 in general:
“Formula 1’s future has the potential to be incredibly bright, and with the new people coming in, and with the people who are still in the sport, they have the opportunity to make it shine even greater than it already is.”
“I don’t have all the answers, it’s not my area of expertise, but if you look at football, social media is so much greater, and utilised so much better in the NBA, and NFL. In Formula 1, every time, for example, that I posted a picture or a video, I would have got a warning from the FIA or a notice telling me to take it down. Hopefully, this year, they’ll change that rule and allow social media for all of us, because social media is an incredible platform for the world to communicate with and for the sport to be able to grow, it’s a super-easy free tool to share it and engage with other people.”
On the recently reported Data Sharing comments:
“I think it’s cool for the engineers to be able to share the information on the car, engineer-wise, and to be able to advance the car is very important. What I referred to is me as an individual.
My job when I arrive at the track, to be the best, is obviously to get out there and exploit the car in the best way I know. But the way the sport is now, whoever is your teammate, you get to see that data and compare your data to it, and you see whether there are improvements in someone else’s driving style and adapt to it.
I just feel that to make it harder for us drivers, they should remove that, so that we rely on our own data. You compare your own lap to your own lap before, you go out and you test, try a different line in the corner, which may or may not work. There will be the weekends where you get it right, and the weekends where you just don’t know where the time is, and I think it just makes it more of a challenge for a driver.
Ultimately I think the better driver will be able to get there faster or find something new, that was really my point.”
On the 2017 tyre compounds:
“It’s great that they have made the tyres more durable so that you can slide them more, and be more aggressive on them, and continue to push so that you’re more on the limit every single lap, and that’s how it should be.”
On missing Nico:
“I don’t think I’m going to miss Nico, as I have never missed a teammate in my life, as generally there’s another one that takes his place!
It will feel a bit strange that there’s another driver in the car next to me, but you soon get past it and you soon get on.”
On his new teammate:
“Fresh new ideas are always a great thing, and Valtteri’s ideas and experiences will add to the great foundation we already have as a team. I don’t know Valtteri very well, I’ve seen him at the race track and we bump into each other on the parade or in the drivers briefing, that’s been it. We’ve always had pleasant short discussions, and I saw him in the factory as the car was being built and we had a small chat, and again today as well.
Ultimately right now, there’s no competition between us, so it is purely on a gentleman’s discussion, which seems to be completely fine. When he sees me at my most intense moment and vice versa, it will be an interesting scenario for us, and that is something we will discover about each other – where the strengths and weaknesses are.
He wants to beat me probably just as much as I want to beat him, which is natural, and I wouldn’t expect anything but the best from him.”
New team, new rules, new everything – how does the new kid on the block at Mercedes think it is going six weeks in? Here’s what he had to say:
On today’s launch:
“It’s a special day for us as a team, and especially for me, driving this car for the first time, and actually working together with the team on track for the first time.
Today was very good, thanks to all the preparation we have done, and obviously, we’ve been massively busy since the announcement on 16th January preparing for everything.
It’s been a massive learning curve, and today was as well, and we’ll keep that going.”
First impressions of the W08:
“First impressions on seeing the car? I saw it a couple of days ago, and yesterday at the factory, and it didn’t look ready at all, but the guys were saying, ‘yes, it will be ready’, and seeing it this morning as a complete car, to me it looks amazing. Obviously, I may be slightly biased, but to me, it is the best looking car I’ve ever seen!
They’ve done a great job on the car and the engine – on track everything was running very smoothly. It’s a very good start, we had zero problems, on the engine side, or mechanically, or aerodynamically, so it was running smoothly, checking the systems.
The feeling was nice – you could feel the extra downforce. I’ve never driven a car with that much downforce, that’s for sure.”
On being Lewis’s Teammate:
“Definitely it is going to be a great challenge to me, going up against Lewis as my team mate, but at the same time, we need to work together for the team.
Obviously, it’s never going to be easy to beat Lewis, that’s a fact. He’s a great driver and a three-time world champion, but I have no special plan whatever, other than keep doing what I’m doing, and that is to improve every single day as a driver.
I’m feeling good for the season and only time will tell how it really is.”
On ensuring he is at Mercedes longer than his current one year contract:
“Well that is completely up to me really, and that is how it goes in Formula 1. I was given this opportunity to race for Mercedes and if I wish for that to continue, it is up to me to perform.
I realise that completely, and it has been pretty much the same every single season throughout my career, that the next year had been a bit unknown, so nothing changes in that way. The team is expecting me to perform and to be on the level of the car, to be fighting well with Lewis, and that is my goal as well.
If the season goes well, I’m hopeful we can have a long future together.”