Mercedes shuffles F1 team board; Avoiding Ferrari change paralysis

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Thinking out loud is not something that always works out well but here it goes…Ferrari went through serious management changes starting with the departure of Luca di Montezemolo, Stefano Domenicali, and Marco Mattiacci to the introduction of Sergio Marchione—and his tragic passing—to Maurizio Arrivabene and his departure last year to today’s Mattia Binotto and Louis Camilleri.

There are middle management changes as well and all of this adds to a lot of…change. I’ve worked for and owned enough companies to know that this level of change over a short period of time can be disruptive and create real challenges within multiple divisions within large and small companies alike. It can create change paralysis if you’re not careful. Ferrari’s issues aren’t Charles Leclerc hitting the wall in Germany or Sebastian Vettel’s unforced errors, it’s Ferrari’s rapid change and internal structure and politics.

I was thinking about that today when I read about all the changes at Mercedes on the heels of their worst race in many moons this weekend at their home grand prix in Germany. Dressed in campy garb to crow about their 125th year in motorsport, which I feel is slightly arguable, left them red-faced and shell-shocked. Team boss Toto Wolff called it karma for all their blustering and fiddling with the race team when they had real work to do.

Mercedes has replaced the recently deceased Niki Lauda with Markus Schafer as the non-executive chairman and Frank Markus is now the director of Mercedes GP. Those are a lot of changes on top of Dieter Zetsche stepping down in May and being replaced by Ola Kallenius.

What struck me was Toto’s posture, facial expression and furrowed brow all weekend long in Germany. Something wasn’t right and not just the results they had on track. You’ll recall that Ross Brawn left Mercedes in a hurry when they started making changes there and something prompted him to leave the team he had just put together for them and had also just gotten F1 to change the regulations in their favor for hybrid engines. Something wasn’t quite right and Ross isn’t the kind of person who will be someone’s junior.

The quotes I also found interesting, let’s start with Toto:

“The commitment of our parent company has been fundamental to the team’s success and will continue to be so in the years ahead.

“This support for Formula 1 has always been reflected in our team’s board, with strong representation from Daimler’s senior leadership, and it continues through the appointments of Markus and Frank Markus for the years ahead.

“Formula 1 is a powerful technology and marketing platform for Mercedes-Benz globally, and a valuable shop window for the company’s values and its competitiveness.”

That’s a prepared statement of course because it sound a tad like Toto but not really. Then we have Schafer’s comments.

“Mercedes-Benz is a driving force in the transformation to emission-free mobility.

“To maintain personal mobility, cutting-edge technology is required to push boundaries and redefine standards, and this can only be achieved by focusing on a shared goal and through fantastic team spirit.

“Our learnings from the exciting world of Formula 1 have brought us valuable and inspiring synergies, and I am looking forward to building upon that close cooperation.”

This seems like a slightly disconnected view of the racing team he is charged with leading. It seems to be a Mercedes board directive into EV cars and EV technology. In fact, I would say it doubles down on the tech and that’s may or may not sit well with you depending on your view of the direction the sport should go.

How will Mercedes manage the changes? Will they struggle under the disruption like Ferrari did although admittedly Ferrari’s changes were quite a bit more invasive? There is rumors about that Toto could be in consideration for replacing Chase Carey as the CEO of F1 or could he be looking at Jean Todt’s role at the FIA when Jean’s term expires? All of these moves occur around 2020 or thereabouts.

Time will tell but it is changes like these that can begin a fall in F1. We’ve seen it at McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and more. If Mercedes doesn’t have a singular focus on F1 and the relationship of its board, executives and employees, they may not be all pulling in the same direction and could lose their stranglehold over F1 politically speaking and that could lead to regulatory changes that don’t flatter Mercedes.

It’s all supposition and wild guesses on my part but I’ve watched this sport long enough to know that these kinds of changes can sometimes create friction points that are hard to smooth out. Time will tell.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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Tom Firth

I’m not sure they can avoid that, in fact I would probably say they’ve already failed to do so.

The whole 125 years of Merc thing which it appears to me at least that Totos comments after it are more him sending a message that the motorsports program is his toy and to let him control it over anything else.

I know you quoted the recent Ferrari upheaval but to me this feels far more like the friction between Montezemolo, Schumacher and Todt that eventually led to the breakup of the Ferrari dream team. I fear the same for Mercedes.