SAO PAULO (Reuters) – The next two weeks could be the biggest challenge yet for Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg take their Formula One title battle down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.
The Austrian is prepared for a bumpy ride all the way to the chequered flag at Yas Marina, in a race with double points on offer for the first time, and might need to think about installing seat belts on his pitwall perch.
However, the message he will be telling both drivers is that, whatever happens on Nov 23, it is only a beginning and not an end.
“The end of the season is not the end of the world. We will aim to provide the two of them with a car which is capable of winning more championships,” he told Reuters at a Brazilian Grand Prix won by Rosberg.
“They still have many more years in their careers to score championships.”
Hamilton left Interlagos with a lead of 17 points, meaning he need only finish second to take his second title even if Rosberg wins the race.
Double points, ‘Abu Double’ to largely unimpressed fans, is an unprecedented novelty that may well be a one-off.
Wolff dislikes the concept, believes commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone does too now despite coming up with the original idea, and said it was “probably something we should be getting rid of for next season.”
The immediate problem for the Austrian, whose team have already won the constructors’ championship, is managing the run-up to Abu Dhabi.
Mercedes have been dominant this season, winning 15 of 18 races with 17 pole positions and a record 11 one-two finishes.
Rosberg picked up the inaugural pole position trophy in Brazil with his 10th of the season and there is every prospect of another private battle between the two Mercedes drivers in Abu Dhabi.
Wolff said the build-up would be more challenging than dealing with disappointment after the race.
“The aftermath is relationship management which is important for the future but the run up is important to maintain the balance, to maintain the respect between the two and to let it stay a respectful relationship,” he said.
“It will not be smooth. We need to buckle up and I am very much looking forward to buckling up. The ride we’ve had this season so far every weekend was a challenge.”
Wolff said he had read a magazine article in which former television commentator Murray Walker recalled an interview with McLaren team mates Alain Prost and Niki Lauda after their 1984 championship battle.
Austrian Lauda, now non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, won that by half a point.
“He (Walker) remembered Alain Prost being very honourable and good. Interestingly, that guy went on to win four championships afterwards,” said Wolff, who was adamant that whoever had most points would be a worthy champion.
“One is going to win and one is going to lose and that says it all,” said Wolff.
The nightmare scenario would be for one of the two, and particularly Hamilton who has 10 wins to the German’s five, to suffer a technical failure that would cast ‘a big shadow’ over the outcome.