We’ve had a lot of fun at Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s expense over the years regarding his penchant for speaking out about any topic asked of him regardless of his involvement or direct association with the topic. Want an opinion on Red Bull’s HR department? Toto has an opinion. Need a quote about Ferrari’s management style? Toto has you covered. Wonder if McLaren will do better without Honda? Toto knows.
It’s no different with this most recent article at Autosport regarding Force India’s two drivers, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez. There’s no doubt that the intra-team competition between Perez and Ocon heated up over the last two seasons and that clash has seen both drivers guilty of taking the other out of a race. It’s a tight battle and on, effectively, equal footing and it led Force India to make an ultimatum last year regarding more driver clashes.
For Toto, he’s got an opinion about Force India’s driver battle and it is bothering him.
“What bothers us are these intra-team rivalries that end with two damaged cars,” he told Autosport.
“This applies not only to Esteban, but also to ‘Checo’ [Perez]. As a team boss, I’m so annoyed by that.”
To be fair, Toto does have a dog in the hunt here. Ocon is part of the Mercedes driver stable and presumably on loan to Fore India so I shouldn’t be too harsh on Toto for having an opinion about one of his possible future drivers.
You can see him position the argument, about being bothered, in Ocon’s favor if you care to parse the words and I would too if Ocon was my guy and Sergio was not part of my future prospects.
“Esteban performed very well against a very strong Sergio Perez,” said Wolff.
“[In 2018] he has to take the next step and improve this performance.
“He is incredibly consistent, makes few mistakes and has great speed.
“[This year] he will have to develop further in this respect and outperform Perez.”
Point here is that Ocon needs to up his game and run clear of Perez. Be much quicker than Sergio and you won’t have to deal with a competitive teammate or jostling for position with them.
Toto didn’t mention that he also had that same situation resulting in similar outcomes at his team with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and neither were running clear of the other. They were very closely matched, just as Ocon and Perez are. It caused a toxic situation within the team and perhaps that’s what Toto knows can happen at Force India if Ocon doesn’t change his game.
What Toto has said in the past, when dealing with his own intra-team conflict, is that it’s good pressure to have and it keeps pressure on the driver to perform. Now that Nico is gone and Valtteri Bottas doesn’t seem to be a match for Lewis, Toto has changed his outlook and seems to enjoy the peace and tranquility that competitive, but not equally competitive, drivers bring.
I have a lot of time for Perez and that respect was gained when I saw him in his first season at Monaco. It was an inspired drive to be sure. I will say, however, that I have been immensely impressed with Ocon. This young man is going toe-to-toe with Perez and giving him all he wants.
That’s impressive and if Ocon can hone his skills, avoid the intra-team garbage, he may just find that he is now better poised for a move to Mercedes if Toto see he can run at the top and do so without wrecking his teammate.
Hat Tip: Autosport