Nico Hulkenberg

Wolff weighs up Mercedes rivals for 2018 F1 season

Nico Hulkenberg

Although Toto Wolff has led his team to eight Formula 1 titles in four years, the Mercedes chief has his finger on the pulse of what is happening up and down the grid and gave his view on the state of play in the paddock as testing got underway at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona this week.

Wolff said of his rivals on the grid: “Force India? There the duel between Perez against Ocon becomes entertaining. Both want to distinguish themselves for bigger things in 2019 – so this season is essential for both.”

“Williams has a bold design, so I’m curious to see how it works. Newcomer Sirotkin has little experience, but his speed can make up for it. Stroll must be a team leader at 19 in his second year.”

“But Renault will make the biggest step forward for me. It will use all its resources, and has ambitious drivers with Hulkenberg and Sainz.”

“Toro Rosso also has the Franz Tost factor and Honda with new ambition. The team boss is a racer and a hard worker – so there could be some surprises.”

“Haas-Ferrari will be difficult to assess because in 2017 it lost a little bit, while McLaren-Renault now has an engine to compete with Red Bull. Both claim to have the best chassis, which will be exciting.”

“And Sauber with Alfa Romeo is more than just a marketing gimmick. It has the best wind tunnel in F1, with Leclerc driver, who is regarded as a star of the future and with Vasseur, a real racer, as team boss.”

“Ferrari made a giant leap from 2016 to 2017. The car will be fast again this year, and Sebastian as leader is strong and confident.”

“Red Bull has a great combination of drivers: a sunny boy [Daniel Ricciardo] who can drive really well and a giant talent [Max Verstappen] who polarises opens and lifts F1. The pairing for sure is top. Plus, in the second half of 2017, the team put forward a development like no other. If Red Bull remains friendly with Renault it will be a tough opponent.”

With regards to his own drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – the Mercedes chief said, “We will look at how [Bottas] is developing this year and will decide from the summer on. For Lewis, an extension is just a matter of detail. I assume that we will continue together.”

Big Question: What is the state of play of each team ahead of the 2018 F1 season?