‘Proactive or reactive?’ - Wolff's leadership of Mercedes questioned

Toto Wolff’s decision-making and leadership of Mercedes during a difficult 2023 season has been questioned by F1 commentator David Croft. 
(L to R): George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 with Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director.
(L to R): George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 with Toto Wolff (GER)…

Mercedes endured their first winless campaign since 2011 last season as they finished a distant second to a dominant Red Bull, who won all but one of the 22 grand prix as Max Verstappen claimed his third straight drivers’ crown. 

After suffering a disappointing start to the season for the second year in a row, Mercedes abandoned their flawed design concept after five races amid a major reshuffle to their technical department that saw James Allison return to the role of technical director. 

And Croft believes the challenging campaign for Mercedes showed a “different side” to Wolff. 

“I think we’ve seen a different side to Toto Wolff this year, to the Toto Wolff we’ve seen in previous years, because, for the second year running, they haven’t been winning much. They haven’t won at all. One win the year before,” Croft told the Sky F1 Podcast. 

“I don’t know what the reasoning was behind the scenes going into this season [2023], but something stopped Mercedes approaching a different concept. 

“Something stopped Mercedes doing what was glaringly obvious, and that was getting rid of the concept they had to go down a different path. They started the season, once again, with a car that was not befitting of where they wanted to be. 

“Now, fair play to Toto Wolff, he has made moves behind the scenes to address the problem, or the problems. They have gone down a different direction, he has signed both of his drivers up to new contracts, which I think was a massive plus point this year for Mercedes, and they did finish second. 

“But without that driver line up, without Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, one of the strongest, if not the strongest line ups on the grid, would they have finished second? No, I don’t think they would. Was that a car that deserved to finish second? Probably not, no. Is it the Mercedes we have seen in the past? Definitely not, no. 

“So what can Toto Wolff do to drag Mercedes back to their glory days?”

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain,
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd…

Sky F1’s pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz felt Wolff was less calm and assured throughout 2023. 

“In leadership, in direction, in inspiring the team, which I still think he is the best leader, watching him from the outside,” Kravitz said. 

“People at Mercedes would jump off a cliff with Toto Wolff wouldn’t they? They would go into battle with him. He just instils that leadership. Maybe that’s a hangover from the seven drivers’ and eight world constructors’ championships of the past. He keeps the drivers happy. He keeps the sponsors - some amazing sponsors on that Mercedes team.

“The only thing I’d mark him down on was his keenness to throw the concept away so publicly after qualifying in Bahrain. We don’t know why he managed to sign off what he did sign off, the sister of the bad car. W14 was the sister of W13 and they were both not great cars. 

“Toto must have signed it off. As a leader he could have said, I disagree, let’s go with the Red Bull concept. For whatever reason they didn’t and he signed it off. 

“And then from that very first interview, and I remember him coming out so strongly and it kind of took me back when he said it, that this car is bad. This was after qualifying at the first race. 

“To immediately throw the whole concept in the trash can then was the only way that I’m slightly thinking that it wasn’t quite the calm, assured Toto leadership that we’ve seen.” 

Croft argued that Wolff’s decision-making, especially during the early part of the season, was largely reactive. 

“I don’t think we saw the calm, assured Toto leadership at all times last year,” Croft countered. 

“Was his leadership proactive, or reactive? Was he reacting more to situations more than proactive, guiding the destiny of his own team. 

“The decision not to get rid of the sister [car] long before it came onto the track, meant that in the early stages, a lot of it was very reactive. The little technical shuffle around was reactive. 

“One of the strengths of Mercedes since 2014 has been they are not following a trend, they plow their own furrow for others to follow. And that is not the case, at the moment, from the outside.”

Read More