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Wolff ‘almost stayed at Williams’

13 February 2013

New Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff reveals that he almost didn't join the Three Pointed Star, but admits that, now that he has put his 'neck on the line', he has extra reasons to make the switch work for all concerned.

Wolff, whose move caught many by surprise, told the official F1 website that, in fact, it almost didn't happen at all, as he pondered leaving a Williams team where he had become happy and respected over a three-year spell. However, the lure of taking on the job of helping turn Mercedes into a regular championship challenger in F1 eventually prompted him to jump ship.

“I fell for the idea immediately because it is such a fantastic opportunity, being involved on the worldwide motorsport side and on the F1 side, because I think that I can bring some added value. What was a real problem was the guys at Williams,” he explained.

“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!”

Wolff, whose wife Susie continues to play an active role in the development of Williams' F1 cars, admits that his arrival is no magic bullet for whatever ails Mercedes, but is confident that, along with a strong management team, he can help turn the team's fortunes around.

“The commitment from Mercedes is there, [but] F1 needs patience,” he stressed, “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, [and] my gut feeling is positive. We will see where we are in a couple of weeks - actually Saturday 16 March in Melbourne. By then, I will develop a better picture of the structure of the team and see where input is needed.

Insisting that there is a clear-cut structure surrounding himself, Brawn and Niki Lauda, contrary to what was portrayed in the media following his appointment, Wolff has already made one key change to the way the team operates and will not hesitate to get involved again should he feel it needs it.

“You cannot run an F1 operation in the UK out of Germany,” he explained, “It is not only a difference in mentality – and there is definitely a difference - but it is also about physically being there. Running a company from a distance never really works, so the question is either you run it full time or you don't. And if you don't, then you rely on management.

“In the past I have done that, but it was not the role Mercedes had envisioned for me. I have taken up the responsibility, so it is important to get a feeling for the people, and I have a good feeling for most of them. However, if it is not going in the direction I want, I will implement the structure that I think will work.

Wolff's remit has him overseeing both Mercedes' F1 and DTM involvement, and it is clear that he is looking forward to getting stuck into the challenge of turning both back into regular success stories. However, with an added financial investment in the F1 team, there are plenty more reasons for him to want to make the role work.

“It is all about having your neck on the line!” he laughed, “As they know I have put my neck on the line they know that I have no room for failure. Not only have I taken a personal risk by leaving Williams - where I have enjoyed working - but there is also a financial and economic side to it. There is a huge amount of trust on both sides and I am very happy having joined.

“I had a nice life being the investor in companies and could blame the guys when they were doing it wrong or could enjoy the fruits and merits when they did well. Now I've slid into a fully operational role sitting in the 'ejector seat'. The good news is I have the trigger in my hand and I would have never have got involved in something that I believed I couldn't do.”