Everyone knows that F1 is 80% car and 20% driver. (Maybe even 95% car and 5% driver in the turbo-hybrid era). So yea, exploiting the rules and finding loop holes IS Formula 1 and should always be the top priority for the Team Principal and technical staff. (And team drivers if they have the brains for it…e.g. Schumi, Vettel, Prost, Alonso).
Toto has been in and around F1 for a long time and he knows how the game is played. He watched recently as the last Red Bull dominance with Adrian’s blown diffuser concept that got SEB and RB 4 Championships. (Poor Webber.) With the bottomless pit of money and brain power from Stuttgart, they developed the best PU by miles and in my opinion is how Merc has won the last 5 WCC. The PU had such a big step that no team was ever going to catch up. No matter how much they developed because Merc also never stopped. That winter test back in 2014 was what locked in those 5 WCC for Toto.
Until this year…
With Ferrari’s PU upgrades this year, Toto finally saw a worthy competitor. So of course, Toto should be concerned about next year. His main advantage is gone, and he is only left with the LH and a robot wing man. 2019 is by no means a lock for him. Also I think he needs to pay close attention to Red Bull with the Honda PU. We have heard this year from Gasly that Honda is making big steps and Horner has been paying close attention. They have a great driver line up next year with Max and Pierre (both hungry AF to get on the top step) and you know Newey is going to have the best aero package. (He always does when a new set of rules is introduced). Lastly, they have a B-team in STR to test all the Honda upgrades they need. (Side note, Merc should have put Ocon in the Williams, gave Claire a bunch of money and made it their B-team…time will show if this was a tactical mistake).