Toto Wolff Q&A - I'll do everything to make Mercedes successful 14 Feb 2013
Hes only been in the job a few weeks, but already Toto Wolff - recently appointed as Mercedes new head of motorsport - has focused his sights on improving the fortunes of the car manufacturer's Formula One team.
Last week, Wolff was in Jerez as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took the covers off Mercedes 2013 challenger, the F1 W04. After a mixed first test - which included two days of mechanical issues followed by two days of productive running - the 41-year-old Austrian spoke exclusively about how he landed one of the biggest roles in the paddock, his plans for the coming season, and the all-important chain of command at the team
Q: Toto, your Mercedes appointment came as a bit of a surprise to many. You were part of the hierarchy at Williams and then suddenly youre with Mercedes. How did it come about?
Toto Wolff: Actually it all went very quickly - within a couple of weeks. From lets say informal discussions it developed into serious talking. I can only concentrate on one thing properly and I was fully committed to Williams. But then - when the Mercedes opportunity came up - it meant not only being involved with the Formula One team and running it, but also - on the motorsport side - taking over Norbert Haugs legacy of 22 years as a motorsport director. I said to myself Toto, this is an opportunity that only comes along every 20 years. It also meant going back to my roots a bit as I have been with Mercedes since 2005. So Mercedes is not new to me. I am involved in (Mercedes-affiliated DTM team) HWA so half of the things I have to do are almost business as usual. I know the guys and trust them and the commitment of the Mercedes board is there to do Formula One, so overall it is an exciting opportunity for me.
Q: When did it all really start to happen with Mercedes then?
TW: Just before Christmas. There was some talk over coffee earlier on, but nothing serious. But (it happened) in a matter of a couple of weeks. It was extremely efficient as the guys at Daimler knew what they wanted and I fitted the job description, so over the Christmas holidays I figured it out and here I am! (laughs)
Q: Did you immediately fall for the idea of working for Mercedes or did they have to woo you?
TW: I fell for the idea immediately because it is such a fantastic opportunity, being involved on the worldwide motorsport side and on the Formula One side, because I think that I can bring some added value. What was a real problem was the guys at Williams. I was there for three years and in various operational roles in the last year and people started to trust me. I was named as the successor. In reality there will never be a successor to Frank Williams, but I was meant to run the team. How was I going to tell Frank? That was really hard. I gave myself one week to see how I felt and after the third day I almost decided to stay at Williams. I like the people there so much - everybody, from the race team, to the marketing department to Frank himself. They all have been somewhat part of my family and to tell them that I was leaving was very hard. But then the opportunity is so huge. I spoke to the board and there was not one bad feeling - they all wished me luck and my relationship with them is completely intact. Franks first comment was thats interesting. I would do the same if such an opportunity came my way! So here we are!
Q: What do you bring to the table? It is a delicate job - Formula One racing wants Mercedes in the sport for the long haul, but this might depend on success...
TW: The commitment from Mercedes is there. Formula One needs patience. When you look back in history it shows that you cannot turn around a team within a couple of years. But then, where are we right now? Ross (Brawn) has worked hard with his team over the winter and there are some brilliant people there. I have met all of them in the last two weeks. That seems short, but you have an instant feeling if you get along with somebody or not and my gut feeling is positive. We will see where we are in a couple of weeks - actually Saturday March 16 at 5.00pm in Melbourne! By then I will develop a better picture of the structure of the team and see where input is needed.
Q: Why do you think Mercedes offered you the job?
TW: Mercedes had decided some years ago to come into Formula One with their own team and that was an important decision for them - to change their role from just being an engine supplier to having a team. Mercedes run a company with 200,000 employees and a turnover of 100 billion Euros, so running a tiny Formula One activity - but one which is in the media spotlight - is something very different. They wanted to come to a situation where they had somebody who was their partner, which makes me very proud. Who can claim hes a partner of Mercedes? But they not only wanted a partner, but a partner who was a co-shareholder with an understanding of motorsport. Weve known each other for quite a while so there was a certain trust - and vice versa. All these reasons add up to why I fitted the job profile.
Q: Right now there is a belief that Mercedes are confident that they are on an upward curve because you invested in the team, and the fear of losing money seems to be one of the hallmarks of a successful investor. Is that so?
TW: Exactly - it is all about having your neck on the line! (laughs) As they know I have put my neck on the line they know that I have no room for failure. Not only have I taken a personal risk by leaving Williams - where I have enjoyed working - but there is also a financial and economic side to it. There is a huge amount of trust on both sides and I am very happy having joined.
Q: What is the chain of command? There is Niki Lauda, then there is Ross and then there is you
TW: The command structure is actually very clear. I think things were made up by the media a couple of weeks ago suggesting that it is not so clear, but that is not the case. Niki is the non-executive chairman of the board which means that he heads the board in non-operational, non-executive functions. He is a triple world champion; he is a good negotiator and he has good relationships. He is very straightforward and direct and is somebody who will be looking after the team. He is chairing the board but it is less of an operational function. Then there is the executive board that is running the company and I am part of the executive board. My angle is more from the commercial side, but of course there are overlaps to the racing activities with Ross. Ross is the team principal who is in charge of the racing team. Nick Fry is still the CEO, and as my role is twofold - on one side I represent Mercedes-Benz as their head of motorsport, on the other side I am a shareholder within the team - I will fit in the senior management.
Q: The team is based in Brackley whilst Mercedes are based in Stuttgart. The suggestion is that this long-distance relationship hasnt worked too smoothly over the last three years. Was this the reason you moved all operations to Brackley?
TW: Yes. You cannot run a Formula One operation in the UK out of Germany. It is not only a difference in mentality - there is definitely a difference (laughs) - but it is also about physically being there. Running a company from a distance never really works, so the question is either you run it full time or you dont. And if you dont, then you rely on management. In the past I have done that, but it was not the role Mercedes had envisioned for me. It was understood that part of the deal was that Im based in the UK and that is what I am doing. In reality, most of the time I will be travelling with Formula One and the DTM.
Q: So will you be following a similar schedule to the one that your predecessor Norbert Haug had?
TW: No, I will not do Norberts world tour. You cant do that. I will be going to all the F1 races and I will be going to the major DTM races.
Q: What objectives are on your to-do list for 2013?
TW: Well, I could say as much as I like that I had no involvement in the 2013 car - which is actually the truth in terms of car performance - but that doesnt count. I have been here for two weeks but nobody cares whether Ive been here one year or one week. I have taken up the responsibility so it is important to get a feeling for the people, and I have a good feeling for most of them. If it is not going in the direction I want, I will implement the structure that I think will work.
Q: What power do you have to change things?
TW: Power is not the issue - understanding the structure and making the right decisions is the core. I dont right now, but I am there to represent Mercedes, I am there as a shareholder and I will do everything it needs to make this team successful. First it is watch and listen, and then I will give my opinion and execute my opinion.
Q: What about your two drivers? At Williams you often dealt with drivers who were relatively new to Formula One racing. Now you are working with two complete racers
TW: Both of them are very experienced drivers. Lewis (Hamilton) was a world champion with McLaren. I think for him it is also a new experience - being out of a structure he has been used to for so many years. Nico (Rosberg) is a front-running driver. He has been a frontrunner and in first place whenever the car was there. I dont know them much on a personal level - Ive had nice discussions with Lewis over the last couple of days and I must say its no wonder he is where he is. He is intelligent, switched on and has a huge amount of social intelligence. He is incredibly talented from what I have witnessed as an observer. In fact, I have watched both from their early days because of my activities with driver management and Formula Three engines. Now I am really looking forward to establishing nice relationships with two personalities of the sport.
Q: Do you ever wake up in the night thinking what have I done? I had such a smooth life before and now Im sitting on the ejector seat
TW: I had a nice life being the investor in companies and could blame the guys when they were doing it wrong or could enjoy the fruits and merits when they did well. Now Ive slid into a fully operational role sitting in - as you call it - the ejector seat. The good news is I have the trigger in my hand and I would have never have got involved in something that I believed I couldnt do. I know that Mercedes standard is to be a top team and if it is not the case then obviously it is going to be difficult to justify what I do.
Q: But you wont let that happen?
TW: No, I will not let that happen. No.
Q: What would be a good year for you?
TW: If the team finishes in the top four and is a regular frontrunner and we win the DTM.
Q: A lot of people would say that the likelihood of Mercedes winning the DTM is probably greater than Mercedes finishing in P4 in the constructors championship
TW: Ha, you said that (not me). I am convinced that if we sit down in a couple of years we are going to laugh about the current discussions.
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