TEAM BOSS OF THE YEAR
Toto Wolff Mercedes
There are those who say that Toto Wolff’s life became easier in 2017, after he’d installed Valtteri Bottas in the seat formerly occupied by Nico Rosberg, thereby producing harmony where once there had been rancour. No further need to bang his drivers’ heads together and exhort them to play nice for the good of the team.
And yet – setting aside the business of how to keep his team at the top – Wolff has had to make tough decisions, few more weighty than at the 2018 Russian Grand Prix. There he made a call that rendered him the object of fierce scrutiny: with five races remaining, he ordered Bottas to cede victory to Lewis Hamilton. Bottas’s cool acquiescence to the order made the act no less problematic.
Wolff later admitted he had struggled to sleep the previous night, wrestling with the permutations of the close championship battle between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, the morality of team orders, and the effect it would have on ‘the show’. But he displayed leadership in his decision and justified his actions. When the sole goal of the Mercedes organisation – totalling hundreds of employees – is to win the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, then every critical decision must return to that purpose. A clear strategic action is the difference between winners and losers.
It was suggested that Wolff’s actions mirrored those unpleasant scenes in Austria in ‘02, early on in the season when Rubens Barrichello was prevailed upon to make way for Michael Schumacher. Wolff’s response was to point out that Jean Todt, then Ferrari team principal, was the most successful team boss in the history of modern motorsport, with numerous championship victories in rallying, sportscars and F1.
Is it any surprise, then, that Mercedes have managed to match Todt’s achievement of five consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships? Four of those have been delivered by Hamilton, who, under Wolff’s management, has been granted freedoms that have enabled him to grow as a person – and as an increasingly consistent and relentless competitor.
“To be voted the team principal of the year, by the readers of F1 Racing, makes me very happy. I was privileged to have won this same award once before in 2014, so now I am a double champion! After such a momentous year, I feel very grateful to have won this.”