Toto Wolff has overseen one of the greatest dynasties in Formula 1. Since he's come in to manage the Mercedes team in 2013, it won eight straight constructors' championships and seven straight drivers' championships starting in 2014. It's a wild run of success.
What we tend to see of Wolff at the track is either a tall Austrian trying to appear laid back, or one who is obviously unhappy, occasionally furious, when things don't go his way. A recent New Yorker profile–it's brilliant and worth the read–digs deeper into the man and how he made the place succeed.
Everything matters to Wolff, be it speed on the track or cleanliness of the office. The profile notes that when Wolff first came in to Mercedes, it was managed by Ross Brawn, a brilliant engineer and designer who had his own run of success at Ferrari in the Aughts with Michael Schumacher and then in 2009 with his own Brawn GP team, which came out of the ruins of Honda F1. On Wolff's first day, he noticed old coffee cups in the reception area:
“I went up to Ross and said, ‘I have just been in reception. . . . It doesn’t look like a Formula 1 team,’ ” Wolff recalled. “And he said, ‘That doesn’t make the car quicker.’ And I said, ‘For me it does. Because it means a sense for the detail.’"
Needless to say, Brawn and Wolff didn't work together for long. That's how Wolff got to make the team meticulous. His focus was on every detail, even the bathrooms:
In 2019, Wolff hired Miguel Guerreiro, a hygiene manager, to travel with the team and to make sure that the Mercedes motor-home bathrooms were spotless at all times. Wolff insisted on a cleaning rota that reflected the various rhythms of the race weekend, and showed Guerreiro how he liked the toilet brush to be shaken dry (twice) before being replaced in its holder. “I want the brush to be exchanged every day or every other day,” he told me. When I expressed disbelief about this, Wolff called Guerreiro over.
“Miguel, can I steal thirty seconds of your time?” Wolff asked. “What did we discuss yesterday?”
Guerreiro replied, “Exactly how the toilets were functioning and how we could improve because—”
“We discussed about the soap—that you can’t really reach it well. You don’t know where the sensor is.”
“Yes,” Guerreiro said. “And the paper, you can’t really see it. . . .”
There were traces of water droplets on the mirror. The door handles needed a wipe. “We have done pretty well, Miguel and I. Everybody laughed about us at the beginning,” Wolff said. But, according to Wolff, the team suffered from less diarrhea and fewer viral infections than their rivals. “We’re talking about feces and all this shitting,” Wolff said. “The point is that I want to set the standards in what I do.”
That's the sort of attention to detail that'd make Roger Penske look like a slob.
Wolff is also aggressively risk averse, wanting to be sure he's on top of every situation. The New Yorker relates that when he travels, he tries to stay in the same room and get the same driver. He eats the same meal for lunch and dinner, alone. And he's on the road more than 200 days per year.
This is the kind of holistic mindset that gets you championship after championship, what stands as a record eight constructor's titles. Until it doesn't. Red Bull took it this year, unseating Mercedes. Even if the M-B team doesn't have the title, at least it doesn't have diarrhea.
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