Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff understands why his multiple business interests might be “annoying” or “piss some people off”, and would pick up on them if roles were reversed.
Wolff joined the Mercedes team in 2013 after being a shareholder at Williams, and under his leadership Mercedes has won six consecutive F1 world titles, but Wolff is not ‘only’ an F1 team principal.
In the past, Wolff was directly involved in driver management and now has a role in Mercedes Grand Prix team’s young driver stable – which has included the likes of George Russell and Esteban Ocon – even if it is only by proxy.
Wolff has undertaken a small personal investment in the Aston Martin car company through his relationship with Racing Point F1 team boss Lawrence Stroll, who has taken over the British manufacturer and will rebrand Racing Point under the Aston name next year.
He has been questioned about his role in dynamics within the paddock, too, after saying he was asked to mediate discussions between Racing Point and other teams to avoid the case surrounding the team’s brake ducts going to the International Court of Appeal.
Shortly after, Mercedes’ customer team Williams and its future customer team McLaren withdrew their intentions to appeal, but both insist it was not at Wolff’s or Mercedes’ instruction.
Pictured in 2018
“I completely understand that if you have been successful over a few years and me as an entrepreneur, which I have always been, having interests in certain indirect relationships with players in the sport – this is annoying,” Wolff said.
“If I were on the other side I would also pick on these things.
“There is one essential point with me: when I joined Mercedes, I decided, and this was an intense discussion with Mercedes, to do everything in the interest of the sport.”
Some of the Williams shares that Wolff sold after joining Mercedes were recently returned to him which has been misinterpreted by many as Wolff re-investing in the team.
But he has clarified on more than one occasion that “they were held in escrow and the last payment defaulted – it’s not something that I wanted and I made it clear with Mercedes that my main priority with those shares is to sell them”.
He also insists his Aston investment is “tiny” and that there is no conflict of interest because the company has “no direct shareholding with an F1 team, but is simply doing the branding on the Red Bull car this year and on the Racing Point next year”.
His role, which he sees “as a good investment”, comes with no seat on the Aston board seat, which was agreed with Daimler, Wolff is “not a consultant, I’m not an executive, I’m just watching from the sideline what happens”.
Wolff also said that he has refrained from “direct driver management” in his Mercedes role, and that stable comes under the Mercedes GP umbrella.
“We have tried, like any other big team, to really look at the talent that is coming up from karting onwards,” he said.
“And like Ferrari, that has expanded its activities in the junior programme, and has some very promising young drivers coming up, we have done that a few years ago. Red Bull has done it.
“There is no conflict of interest. But I understand that it pisses some people off and sometimes the perception is something that is important to recognise and I do that.”
Wolff is in discussion over his future with Mercedes as his current contract expires this year.
It appears that staying with the team could result in a change of position that removes him from the day-to-day management of the team.
“I really have enjoyed many years in Formula 1 in that role and the discussions that we are having are very good,” he said.
“I’m happy that my relationship with Ola [Kallenius, Daimler boss] is probably as good as it can be and we speak almost every day.
“There are many factors that make me want to stay in Formula 1. On the other side, it takes a toll and this plays into my consideration but as it stands, there is no reason not to continue with Mercedes and we will find out in which role.”
Wolff’s relationship with star driver Lewis Hamilton has been an important element of Mercedes’ strength and is something that developed in the aftermath of Nico Rosberg’s exit.
Hamilton is yet to sign a new deal with Mercedes beyond 2020 and though he now says Wolff’s future will not impact his decision he hopes that he stays in some capacity.
“There’s so many people in the team,” said Hamilton. “So it’s not just down to one person, one individual.
“That’s not determining whether or not I stay. I’ve been a part of building and growing with this team. The strength is there through and through.
“I think everyone has to do what’s best for them, and what’s best for their career and happiness at the end of the day, and I think I think it’s smart for him.
“I think everyone needs to take a moment and evaluate what they want to do moving forward, whether it suits them and their families and their future dreams.
“We’ve done so much already together in this period of time.
“I hope he stays because it’s fun working with him, and fun negotiating with him and fun having the up and down.
“So I’m truly grateful to Toto. I’ll be supportive in whatever he decides to do.”
Wolff said that Hamilton staying at Mercedes is the best the six-time world champion can do and is what he wants to do.
He said his own future would not determine Hamilton’s future success with the team but insisted that was not giving the situation “a spin that I am leaving because that’s not the case”.
Wolff described his situation as being in “a moment of reflection” for multiple reasons – “where Formula 1 is heading to, what is happening around the COVID case and also personal reasons”.
He has previously talked about the advantages of spending unprecedented time at home during the coronavirus pandemic with wife Susie and their young family.
Referring to Susie’s Venturi Formula E team principal role and the amount of travel both have to undertake, Wolff added: “Susie is in a good place, running a Formula E team and that means she’s away a lot.
“I’ve been to God knows how many races, I think 120 Formula 1 races in the last eight years and that is something we’re thinking about.”
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas was brought into Mercedes by Wolff following Rosberg’s exit.
Bottas’s relationship with Wolff goes back years, as Wolff helped the Finn in his formative single-seater years after being impressed by his on-track performance and off-track demeanour.
“Toto has been a really important part of the team and been a big part of helping the team to get to the state where it is now,” said Bottas.
“It’s not all about one person, we’re a big team, there’s so many important personnel in the team and everyone needs to be able to work together.
“Whatever he does, I hope he makes a decision that he really wants to do and makes him happy. That’s it.
“That’s what life’s all about, only do things that make you happy, so follow your dreams.
“Of course, it would be a shame to see him go.”