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Mercedes boss: “With the personal attack, the FIA ​​has crossed a red line”

It wasn’t until a week after the end of the season that Formula 1 really took off. And right in the middle: Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff (51). The FIA, the world association, has initiated an investigation against the Austrian and his wife Susie Wolff (41) – for cheating. The accusation: Susie Wolff, managing director of the women’s Formula 1 “F1 Academy” and thus part of the management of the premier class of motorsport, is said to have shared secret documents with her husband. After the investigation by the FIA’s compliance department remained inconclusive, the Mercedes boss is now speaking.

Ask: Mr. Wolff, how often do you talk to your wife at home about work?

Toto Wolff: We both come from motorsports and have petrol in our blood. Of course, this is also an issue at home. But we are professional enough to clearly separate our areas. I don’t even see where our work overlaps much. Especially since we have three children who are six, 19 and 22 years old. You can imagine that they have their own topics.

Toto Wolff (r.) and his wife Susie

What: REUTERS

Ask: How did you find out about the allegations that you were cheating on your wife?

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Wolff: I was in a technical meeting when Bradley Lord, our head of communications, sent me the report from the FIA. I then went straight out to get more details and background information. But that didn’t exist because we as a team weren’t contacted by the FIA.

Ask: What do you think when a topic like this comes up after such an intense season – exactly at the moment when you feel like you can take a breather for the first time?

Wolff: After ten years as a team boss, I’m already pretty jaded and hard to surprise, but this story was shocking. If I’m caught in the crossfire, that’s no problem for me at all. In Formula 1 you don’t fight with your elbows on. I have developed thick skin and can handle it. But when you attack my family, it’s a different level. An absurd accusation was created out of thin air. This was a personal attack that crossed a red line.

Ask: Was that the most exhausting season of your career?

Wolff: No. The 2021 season was even more strenuous. Back then we had an extremely intense World Cup duel with Red Bull. This year we had different challenges.

Wolff has been head of motorsport at Mercedes since 2013

Quelle: Getty Images via AFP/JARED C. TILTON

Ask: For example?

Wolff: In the second year after the big rule revolution, we still haven’t managed to build a car that consistently performs well. Fortunately, we know that in the end it is physics and not mysticism that we need to understand. We have to use the smart minds we have and our infrastructure to ensure that we are able to win again in the long term.

Ask: What has been your biggest mistake in recent years?

Wolff: We took the wrong approach when building the car for the 2022 season and built the car much too low.

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Ask: Nevertheless, you stuck to the aerodynamic concept for this year’s season.

Wolff: That was the second big mistake – but I stand by it. We won comfortably in Brazil with the car. Any racing team would have used it as a foundation for the new season if they had such a good weekend with it shortly before the end of the season. 65 to 70 percent, i.e. significantly more than half, said that things are now looking up.

Ask: It didn’t. Instead, you criticized your team harshly in TV interviews after bad weekends. Is this really how you make progress?

Wolff: Of course, this is a balancing act that I don’t master perfectly either. But I think that it actually motivates many employees when they see that their boss is ambitious. But I know that I go overboard from time to time and should perhaps drink a chamomile tea to calm down before interviews.

A successful duo for many years: Lewis Hamilton (l.) and Wolff

Source: picture alliance/HOCH ZWEI

Ask: How do you feel when you go to the office on Monday if you criticized the team on Sunday?

Wolff: With a good one. If I’ve been too harsh, I have no problem apologizing. For me, this is part of good leadership style. But I don’t have to do that too often. At Mercedes we have the credo of “Tough love” (tough love; editor). We always want to express our opinions openly and honestly. It works quite well, I can even call a few people friends privately.

Ask: After five years of great success and then two negative seasons in Dortmund, Jürgen Klopp said: “A big head has to go – and that’s mine!” Have you already had the same thought?

Wolff: No. At least not with this answer.

Ask: Please explain that.

Wolff: I’ve questioned myself almost every day my entire adult life. When you look in the mirror, you have to be able to honestly tell yourself that you are still there with full energy and fun and that you have added value for the team. I can still say that about myself. And as we all know, you can’t lie to yourself.

A picture from successful days: Wolff (r.) celebrates the Grand Prix victory in Monaco with Hamilton

Source: picture alliance/HOCH ZWEI

Ask: Does Mercedes CEO Ola Källenius see it that way too?

Wolff: Yes. The last thing he asked me was, “How do we turn this around?” But in the same conversation he also said that there is no one in whom he can do this more than me. This creates great trust.

Ask: What grade do you give the season?

Wolff: The stopwatch never lies. We came a respectable second, but had no chance against Red Bull in the World Cup. The end result deserves a grade of 3.

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Ask: Lewis Hamilton celebrated his last victory over two years ago. Will this continue for another two years until his contract expires in 2025?

Wolff: We have a Mount Everest to climb if we want to beat Red Bull and Max Verstappen in the World Cup. We all give 100 percent to this. And if any driver can do it, it’s Lewis. But we also have to build him the necessary car.

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Ask: Keyword car. Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner, your arch rival, currently has the best car. If you had one Christmas wish, what would you most like from him: his team, his car or his driver?

Wolff: Honestly, nothing at all. I believe that we can get out of the hole on our own – and that’s how it has to be somehow. We have the potential to fight them on equal terms, and if there’s one thing I want, it’s exactly that. But other than that, I just want to spend time with the family and start the day without a plan.

Ask: What was the most valuable advice your wife gave you?

Wolff: There is not one, but many. I learn from Susie almost every day. How she has asserted herself in the male-dominated world of motorsport is impressive.

The interview was conducted for the Sports Competence Center (WELT, SPORT BILD, BILD) and first published in SPORT BILD.

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