Toto Wolff's finger-pointing has become a symptom of Mercedes' decline

POLE POSITION: Toto Wolff’s finger-pointing has become a symptom of Mercedes’ decline after the team hit a new low at the Brazilian Grand Prix

  • Lewis Hamilton and George Russell failed to challenge last weekend in Brazil
  • Toto Wolff has been pointing the finger of blame elsewhere for his team’s issues
  • Mercedes used to be the team to beat, but they have fallen behind Red Bull 

Toto Wolff wasn’t going to do his published media routine after the sporting nightmare that unfolded in the Brazilian Grand Prix last weekend.

He did an interview on Sky Sports with Ted Kravitz in the Mercedes hospitality area, explaining why Lewis Hamilton had finished a regrettable 1min 3sec behind winner Max Verstappen and George Russell retired with engine failure while ailing in 11th.

That was going to be that. It was asserted by his PR team that, because the race had over-run, he was busy in the debrief. He declined his usual Sky Germany duties as a result.

One guessed that Toto, who is usually accommodating in his media briefings, was sore about the fact Mercedes were only the sixth best team of the afternoon. Red Bull, McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Alpine were all ahead of them. Indeed, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly swept past both Hamilton and Russell as if they weren’t there.

Anyway, he relented and did speak in one press briefing. For which, thanks. I wonder, however, whether he didn’t chuck the team under the bus in the remarks he made there and on Sky. ‘Unacceptable,’ was one adjective he used.

Toto Wolff labelled Mercedes’ performance ‘unacceptable’ at the Brazilian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton finished over a minute behind runaway Championship winner Max Verstappen

George Russell had to retire his car due to an engine failure, but was outside the top 10 anyway

I cannot imagine Christian Horner saying the same. As those who work for the Red Bull boss say: ‘If you’re wearing the shirt, he has your back.’ A characteristic of Mercedes’ decline has been this kind of vague finger-pointing. It’s as though the performance in Sao Paulo was visited upon Wolff, not in part because of him.

His comments may well reflect how you would feel if, as I have written before, you live in Monaco, rather than in Oxford, where he once resided closer to the factory. He is an arm’s length team principal, and the results show it.

Can Mercedes claw it back eventually? Possibly. But Formula One is littered with too many tales of fallen giants to be certain of that. Ask Williams.

Alonso shows why he’s one of the greats 

Fernando Alonso delivered, in taking third place in Sao Paulo, a blistering reminder of what makes him one of the outstanding drivers of his era.

Since Michael Schumacher left Ferrari in 2006, we have witnessed three greats — Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, whose debut season alone qualifies him never mind the seven titles that followed, and Max Verstappen, no details required.

I always say this with apologies to Sebastian Vettel, who, if he cared for my estimation, could point to four world titles, thank you very much. Which accomplishments put him on a pedestal with the magical Alain Prost. Vettel was a wonderful driver; but if I were a team boss he wouldn’t quite get the call ahead of the others, though he might be easier to handle than some.

I also always put a word in at this stage for the talent lost to the sport through his rallying injury, Robert Kubica. He says he didn’t do himself justice in Formula One. I think he did, prior to the incapacity that could only have an adverse bearing on the second phase of his career.

Fernando Alonso finished third in Brazil to show that he deserves to be considered a great of the sport

Back to Alonso. His defensive drive, holding off the superior equipment of Sergio Perez, who had the advantage of DRS, was top drawer. Yes, he was passed at the start of the penultimate lap, but that was not the end of it.

Displaying bravery, Alonso reclaimed the podium place on the last lap — bravura stuff. And, in a final coup de theatre, he held off Perez as the Mexican drafted him to the finish line. At the end, 0.053sec separated the pair.

This against a Red Bull that in the hands of Verstappen is rewriting the record books.

Alberto Ascari helped light the bonfire of Italian motor sport after the Second World War, and, until Sunday, his record of being the most dominant driver in any single season stood for 71 years. 

His winning ratio for Ferrari in 1952 was 75 per cent. Now, Max Verstappen has won 17 out of 20 races, so however the Dutchman fares from this point on, with Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi remaining, the Ascari monument has fallen.

Felipe Massa was in Sao Paulo last weekend telling anyone who cared that he should be 2008 world champion.

The Singapore Grand Prix was fixed that year and the Brazilian claims that without the manipulation he would have worn the crown instead of Lewis Hamilton — though driving off with a fuel hose stuck in his Ferrari that night hardly helped. Nor did his performances in the wet at Monaco and Silverstone, which, for me, disqualify him from a moral claim on the title.

By coincidence, the Sao Paulo race saw the biggest collection of Renault collaborators in recent times: Pat Symonds, then technical boss but now working for Formula One Group, of all employers; Nelson Piquet Jnr, who crashed his car under orders and is brother to Verstappen’s girlfriend Kelly; and Alonso, who won the grand prix as a result of the safety car brought about by Piquet’s prang.

Massa should have asked for a tribunal to be staged there and then.

Felipe Massa (left) remains adamant he should have won the world title in 2008

Las Vegas is sure to be the craziest, loudest, swankiest race ever staged. A symbol of this is the 28,000-sq-ft video screen in the shape of the F1 logo atop the ‘Pit Building’ visible to passing aeroplanes.

It comprises 22,000 LED modules — long enough, it is said, to lap the 3.8-mile track two-and-a-half times.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix is set to light up the city, and will be the loudest and craziest F1 race ever staged

Regulars at next weekend’s race will call the Las Vegas ‘paddock’ by that name, as they do around the world.

But locals and organisers will not utter the word. For them, the 300-sq-ft grand prix hub, the biggest on the calendar naturally and very well advanced from what I saw on a visit a couple of weeks ago, will simply be known as the ‘Pit Building’.

That is to avoid a terrible reminder of Stephen Paddock, the gunman responsible for the worst mass shooting in American history, during the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, 2017.

Paddock, a real estate investor and nocturnal video poker player, shot dead 60 people and injured 867 in his lone spree on the Strip. He later killed himself in his hotel room from which he fired at the concert-goers. He took his motive to the grave.

Ricciardo doesn’t get Lando’s vote

Daniel Ricciardo is heir presumptive to Sergio Perez at Red Bull, should the Mexican be axed (which he won’t be unless he really flunks it over the closing two races). But that is not the view of his former McLaren team-mate, Lando Norris. 

‘It’s not about one good race,’ said Norris, in reference to Ricciardo’s stellar drive in Mexico a fortnight ago — a brilliant fourth in qualifying, a decent seventh in the race. 

‘I think Yuki Tsunoda deserves the seat more,’ alluding to Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri team-mate.

Lando Norris (left) does not think Daniel Ricciardo (right) deserves to take Sergio Perez’s seat at Red Bull

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