Wolff makes clear Bottas won fairly: 'Don't get paranoid'
An incident during the Austrian GP made fans hark back to the infamous ‘multi 21’ Red Bull Racing controversy but Toto Wolff says 'Don't get paranoid.'
Formula One’s 2020 season finally kicked into action in Austria on Sunday but with so many retirements throughout the race, there were many people wondering whether this would be a repeat of the scenario seen in Monaco back in 1996. On that day, there were just three finishers to make it across the line; thankfully on Sunday we had 11 finishers – but spare a thought for 11th placed man Nicholas Latifi being the only driver to see the chequered flag but not score any points. However, another incident arose during Sunday’s Grand Prix which led to fans recalling past events and hark back to the infamous ‘multi 21’ Red Bull Racing controversy. However, Toto Wolff has been quick to quell any speculation that this was the case during the first of a double header at the Red Bull Ring.
So, what was the issue to get tongues wagging in the first place?
First, let us recall the past, particularly the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. On that day, as many race fans know, Sebastian Vettel infamously ignored a team radio message of ‘Multi 21’ which was code stating to Vettel to not overtake the race leader of the time – his teammate Mark Webber.
On Sunday, the message which was heard across the team radio of the Mercedes-AMG PetronasFormula One Team was:
"Urgent Chassis Default Two One."
As a result, seeing how it was announced when Valtteri Bottas was leading the Austrian Grand Prix, albeit under pressure from teammate and 6-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion Lewis Hamilton, social media was rife that such a message was implying Hamilton had been ordered to stop attacking Valtteri Bottas. So, how did Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff respond to this when questioned by the media?
"Don't get paranoid! This is nothing to do with Multi 21…We have never played that, unless there was a problem on the car, and we would never interfere in a fight in the first few races of a season. They were completely free to race each other.”
So, that statement clears up any further speculation. Therefore, the next question inevitably posed is, what was "Urgent Chassis Default Two One" referring to? Toto Wolff was generous enough to reveal this hidden code message.
"What we did, that we always do on both cars, we gave them the same recommendations to stay off the kerbs. And because there was no competitor basically at a certain stage, we switched the engines to a lower mode to protect the power unit…There was no, zero team orders. No hidden, no subtle, and no direct."
Any race fan would certainly hope that in an opening race of a season, albeit one is only 8 races in length so far, that a team such as Mercedes would not resort to such tactics as quelling competitive racing so early on. Therefore, it is a relief to hear such a statement from the team boss, but this does not mean that there was not discussion for a potential team order later on. Such a team order which would have broken the heart of Lando Norris and all those in the papaya of McLaren.
With a 5-second penalty having been handed to Lewis Hamilton for his role in colliding with Alex Albon – leading to further reminiscing, this time back to Brazil 2019 – there was definitely consideration for ValtteriBottas to let Lewis Hamilton pass him in the hope of creating a 5-second plus lead which would enable Hamilton to still have a place on the podium - whether it be second or third. To the great relief of all those still believing in McLaren, the strategists at Mercedes concluded that it was too complicated a situation to achieve, as Toto Wolff explained once again to a limited media:
"Maybe with all the information afterwards we would have gotten P3. There was a discussion, but that starts to get really messy…We've had it in Budapest many years ago, and we nearly got overtaken by [Max] Verstappen. The thinking that I had was that you need to explain to Valtteri what is going on, that there is a five-second penalty, and then ask Lewis in the last lap to let Valtteri pass again. So if Valtteri can't keep up, he can't let him past, and if [Charles] Leclerc and [Lando] Norris on fresh tyres are on his gearbox, then obviously Valtteri rather than winning the race ends up fourth. Too much complexity to do such a switch. Too much risk."
Definitely far too great a risk but had Mercedes attempted it and pulled it off, I hazard to think what backlash they would have received from the wider F1 community. As it was, Lando Norris’ fastest lap of the race coming on the final lap of the race secured the third step of the podium for the jubilant Brit – the first in his career racing in the pinnacle of motorsport.