Fighting the bull

Motor Racing – Formula One World Championship – 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Race Day – Yas Marina Circuit

Toto Wolff was taken in by Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda to run the German marque’s Formula 1 team and snatch the title away from rivals Red Bull Racing. 

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Toto Wolff is walking through the Paddock wearing a white shirt, jeans and wearing a backpack. The 42-year-old looks more like a student than the executive director of Formula One’s currently leading team. He appears extremely relaxed – and he has every reason. Wolff has been on board of the Mercedes AMG F1 team since last spring when fellow-countryman Niki Lauda appointed him. In only one season, he played a key role in turning the struggling Mercedes racing team into a championship contender. While the Silver Arrows finished the 2012 season in 5th place in the constructors‘ championship with one race win, they came runner-up last season with eight pole positions and three victories. In 2014, the world championship title shall finally be realised.

Racer and investor

The 42-year-old Austrian started his motorsport career in the Austrian Formula Ford Championship and the German Formula Ford Series. Torger Christian, as he was really named by his parents, became vice-chairman in the Austrian Rally Championship in 2006 and won the 24-hours-race in Dubai. On the business side, Wolff founded Marchfifteen in 1998 and Marchsixteen Investments six years later, which initially focused on Internet and Technology companies. Current investments include amongst others the German HWA AG, in which he bought a 49% stake in 2006 and listed the company on the stock exchange the following year. The company runs the DTM race program for Mercedes Benz, develops F3 engines and the Gullwing Mercedes Benz SLS GT3 racing car. Serving as deputy chairman of the board to Mr Hans-Werner Aufrecht, founder of AMG, his ties to Mercedes have consequently been perfect. Wolff also held shares in Williams F1, where he joined the team’s board of directors in 2009 and his Scottish wife Susie (formerly Stoddard), is under contract as third and development driver. In 2012 he was named Executive Director and led the team to a Grand Prix victory in Barcelona after an eight-year winless streak.

Ahead of the 2014 season, Marko claimed Lauda and Wolff had pushed the FIA towards introducing the massive regulation changes, foremostly that of the engine, as early as this year, so that Mercedes could capitalise on their motor advantage.

Niki’s man

However, following his departure in January 2013 and his move to the Silver Arrows, Wolff had to sell his 16% share. In addition to joining Mercedes, he also acquired 30% of the F1 outfit. The Austrian took over the coordination of all Mercedes-Benz motorsport activities, breaching the gap left by his long-time predecessor Norbert Haug. Different from Haug, Wolff is more of a team player and mostly acts in the background. He has introduced a so-called “healthy option” at the factory refectory and is always in close contact “with everyone involved in the F1 team.” His prime contact person is Mercedes chairman Lauda. “Niki is our representative to the outside world, something like our Secretary of State. He makes sure that we have enough space to focus on our job. You cannot tell someone like Niki what or what not to do. That would certainly be the wrong signal. He is a three-time world champion. You have to take your hat off to what he has achieved. He has great abilities, and he is direct and sees things quickly. We want to use these strengths. We have an open relationship and can say everything to each other.”

All about winning

Commenting on Wolff’s appointment, Daimler-CEO Dieter Zetsche said: “As an entrepreneur, investor and motorsport manager, Toto Wolff has proven that this sport runs in his blood; at the same time, he is also well aware of the economic necessities of the business. Together with him and Niki Lauda, we will further develop our motorsport activities.” But the pressure is on Wolff because Mercedes is expecting nothing less than the Silverware as Zetsche expressed: “Of course it is our goal to win the drivers‘ and the constructors‘ championships in 2014.” However, Wolff is well aware of his responsibility saying: “The pressure for success is great, otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun. That’s Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes has gone into Formula One to drive for championships and win championships. That has to be the aim. A Formula One team is merely judged on how quick it is on the track. Everything else is secondary. We can give our input as best we can, but at the end of the day, it plays no role in what is discussed at the owner level. Fortunately, we have two great drivers with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.”

Bullying bosses

Since moving up from midfield to a real title contender, the rivalry between Mercedes and recently dominating Red Bull Racing has grown more intense. Fuel was added to the fire by the fact that the “Silver Arrows” are now managed by Niki Lauda, while the “Racing Cans”, as the Red Bull cars are dubbed in Austria, are under the wings of his archrival Helmut Marko. Lauda and Marko were F1 hopefuls in the 1970s, but while Lauda went on to become a triple champion, Marko’s career was ended, when during the 1972 French Grand Prix at Clermont-Ferrand a stone pierced through his helmet visor permanently blinding his left eye. Battling for supremacy in motorsport’s elite category has since tightened the infight between the Mercedes F1 boss and Red Bull Racing’s motorsport director. A first negative highlight was the massive attack by Red Bull on Mercedes after the Germans’ secret tyre tests at Barcelona last season. While Marko demanded a complete points deduction and a hefty fine, the FIA only issued a reprimand and a ban from the subsequent Young Drivers’ Day test. Ahead of the 2014 season, Marko claimed Lauda and Wolff had pushed the FIA towards introducing the massive regulation changes, foremostly that of the engine, as early as this year, so that Mercedes could capitalise on their motor advantage. When asked, Wolff said, he didn’t “bother about certain people’s moods. I am focusing on my job and not the statements from a soft drink producer“.

Ready for a breakthrough

“Toto is not satisfied coming second. He always wants to win“, his best mate Christian Nordberg said. And this breakthrough seems more than possible in 2014. At the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton and Rosberg lapped the track considerably faster than their rivals, which led to Lewis’s 32nd pole position and Nico’s 4th GP victory. “We made a good job Down Under. 90% right. It was a pity that Lewis could not capitalise on his top spot at the start. But we all knew that a major factor this season is reliability. Still, we have the pace and a good package”, Wolff commented on the race. Nonetheless, the confirmed pessimist warned against “foolish optimism” adding: “You have to keep the expectations low with such a change in regulations, because if you head into the weekend foolish with rose-tinted glasses on, saying ‘This is our year and we are going to destroy everyone else’, it would not be the right attitude. Australia went well, but it is not a typical race. If things pan out well in Malaysia and Bahrain too, then we can be optimistic.” According to Nordberg, the “home race” on the Austrian Red Bull Ring, is a must-win for him. “When I was twenty, I used to work as a racing instructor at the old Österreich-Ring. Therefore, it is something like a sentimental obligation to win here this summer”, Wolff revealed. Formula One will return to Spielberg after a ten-year break in July 2014, giving Wolff and his team the golden opportunity to defeat Red Bull on home soil.

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