Toto: ‘The command structure is actually very clear’

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Mercedes’ top dog, er, No. 2, umm… third banana, I can’t keep it straight, Toto Wolff is the latest subject of an official Formula 1 Q&A.

Is it me or are they rolling more of these out this year?

He kinda, sorta answers Todd’s biggest question about his move to Mercedes from Williams:

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.

Does that clear it up?

Beyond this, he provides answers that, I have to say, aren’t very satisfying. (And, no, I’m not new to Formula 1, thank you very much.) Here’s a sample:

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 he’s a partner of Mercedes? But they not only wanted a partner, but a partner who was a co-shareholder with an understanding of motorsport. We’ve 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.

He does, however, provide a few insights with a big more meat to them:

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. Frank’s first comment was ‘that’s interesting. I would do the same if such an opportunity came my way!’ So here we are!

How do you take that reference to Frank Williams’ reaction? Believable?

You can check out where he thinks Mercedes will finish — in F1 and DTM.

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