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Blow for Williams as Toto Wolff is confirmed as Mercedes motorsport boss
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Jan 2013   |  11:51 am GMT  |  129 comments

Williams F1 team has been left in a tricky position by a decision by one of its shareholders and senior managers, Toto Wolff, to take up the role of executive director with Mercedes F1.

Wolff will become a 30% shareholder of Mercedes Grand Prix, Niki Lauda will hold 10%, however in a rather awkward conflict, Wolff will retain his 15% shareholding in the Williams team, for the time being at least.

It was important that Wolff’s retained shareholding was part of the message from the point of view of the financial picture at Williams and with regards to share price, as Williams is listed on the Frankfurt exchange. According to Bloomberg, shares in Williams Grand Prix, “fell 2 percent to 24.20 euros at 1:10 p.m.”

The Austrian, who had steadily increased his influence with the Grove team in recent years, will to some extent replace Norbert Haug, who left Mercedes just before Christmas after the disappointing results of the F1 team, although there are subtle differences in their roles.

“Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC today announced that Toto Wolff, one of its Executive Directors, will be leaving the Company with immediate effect to take up a new role with Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd,” said a Williams statement.

“Toto will be relinquishing his seat on the Company’s Board of Directors but will retain his shareholding.”

Sir Frank Williams said in a statement that Wolff will retain his shareholding, whilst managing a rival team and noted that, “we will fight him hard on the racetrack!”

Williams will rely on his management board to steer the team through this departure, but Wolff was an important figure in the team’s relationship with the FIA and with Bernie Ecclestone in particular. He replaced Adam Parr, who did not see eye to eye with the 82 year old billionaire F1 boss.

With Williams, 70, not as strong or energetic as he used to be, Wolff provided vitality to the team and worked well alongside the team’s very capable CEO Alex Burns, who runs the team behind the scenes. Wolff will need to be replaced to maintain that energy and direction. Williams also lost Prof Mark Gillan over the winter. He was responsible for all track operations.

A statement from Mercedes said, “Toto Wolff is to become both a shareholder and executive director of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd. and will take over the complete coordination of all Mercedes-Benz motorsport activities.”

Like Haug, he will be in charge of all Mercedes motorsport, including DTM and F3, although it will be more of an overseer role, with F1 his primary operational function.

Wolff has a strong history on the DTM side of the business through his investment in HWA, the partner of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport in DTM racing.

The Mercedes F1 team previously had Ross Brawn as team principal, Nick Fry as CEO and Niki Lauda as no-exec chairman. The Mercedes statement said that “Together with Ross Brawn, Lauda and Wolff will complete the management of the Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 racing team.”

There was no mention of Fry in the new landscape and Mercedes sources say that “there are still details that are under discussion.”

Wolff’s role is clearly going to be from the Mercedes corporate side, representing their interests. He lives in Switzerland currently, but will be based at Mercedes HQ in Brackley. He will report to the Daimler board on non-F1 matters, but on F1 matters will report via the Mercedes GP team board through Lauda to the Daimler board, as does Brawn.

Lauda remains the main conduit back to the Daimler board for the F1 team.

Although today’s development is a positive one for Mercedes and strengthens their talent pool greatly, it also means that Mercedes’ F1 team will have an “Austrian arm” (with shareholdings) and a “British arm” (without shareholdings) to its management. It’s clear where the power lies.

Knowing how F1 politics work, it is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.

* If you want to know more about Toto Wolff and hear how he thinks about F1, you can check out the interview I did with him on the JA on F1/UBS podcast, from last October here. JA on F1 podcast Wolff segment starts at 15m 14s.

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129comments

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1
Adrian Newey Jnr

James – could you shed some further light into why the board of Mercedes, without any sort of sales campaign, has selected a relative unknown (after all Toto only has a few years involvement with Williams and F1) to purchase 30% of their team and to then install him as Executive Director/Team Principal?

This seems to fly totally in the face of how Mercedes runs its business. Usually with a heavy emphasis on experience and accountability.

Whilst Toto seems like a nice guy, he isn’t soley responsible for Williams’ improvement last year. I would respectfully suggest that had more to do with Mike and the technicians in the garage rather than the corporates in the office.

Yet he seems to have leapfrogged a number of senior, respected and highly qualified personnel within the team. Surely there is more of a story there for eminent journalists like yourself to uncover?

Is there any coincidence that Aabar also sold its shares at around about the same time? If these were the shares that Toto and Niki bought, then it would seem these changes have been long in the works.

2

Now we know why schumacher left!…With all due respect to Mr wolff ..he aint no Ross Brawn

3

They know him well from his years as investor in HWA through DTM collaboration

4

Toto is a total professional from my experience as a part of the investment team at nbk automotive. A powerfull motor sport executive with a foundational knowledge and experience not many can compete with.

Great for Suzie and Toto well done Mercedes

Paul

5

Would it seem sensible to let Ross do his tech thing and concentrate on some magic for the 2014 car and let Wolff run the 2013 season?

6

Couple of questions James.

Who is paying for these shares? I mean maybe Lauda has the cash but Toto does not have the money to buy 15% of Merc F1. Who is behind this bankrolling this and his Williams stake?

Any company like Williams will have some sort of investment agreement and it would be unthinkable that Toto can hold onto his Williams shares if he leaves, let alone go to a competitor. If however this is the case then what Wolf has done is get his (or his master’s!) claws into Williams cleverly through an IPO (which he totally arranged basically). I fear Frank has been taken for a ride and is about to find out to what extend…

There is far more to this story I bet.

7

Toto is an investor in many businesses and has purchased 30% of the shares of the team. He said that he does not have silent partners on this deal

8

Wow rather big news just before a season launch !. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised with Totos selection given his strong Mercedes / DTM links- he would seem the strongest possible replacement for Norbert.

I think Mercedes learned from Haug that you can’t have one guy being active in all key decision making in all its motor sport operations. For Williams this is a big hit and Sir Frank will have to come up with something pretty quick- perhaps he can call Adam Parr back or is that no chance of that ??

9

Get Flavio Briatore back! And before the crashgate comments fly, imagine what he would do if he took over from Bernie:

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=Ctd-hlY6K2M

His reaction at the above is of a man that loves racing

10

no-exec chairman

sit around, cup of tea?

11

Now, how to entice Newey to the fold and complete the A-team.

12

I keep reading Lewis fans saying that he must be scared. IMO these changes are not last minute, IMO they have been in the works, and if thats the case Im sure Lewis new about them BEFORE he signed.

13

I hope this leaves room for Bobby Rahal too.

15

This is a farce, all engineered by old Bernie for Hamilton to claim the title in 2014, whilst he will try and get Alonso to win in 2013, F1 is in danger of becoming a spec series and after that theres only one way for the sport to go and thats down.

In the conflicts in F1 politics this year I always sided with Bernie and thought Luca Di Montizemelo and Adam Parr was kicking up a fuss to distabalise F1 but in actual fact Bernie, Wolff and Lauda with bring this sport to its knees James you mark my word.

16

Seems like a lot of people are leaving Williams…

17
alastair emmerson

I totally respect all of the above comments about wether this will be good or bad, as things go nobody has a clue how its going to go with Wolff being added. I hope being a Hamilton fan, that its a very good thing for the team. Little by little merc are putting together a very clever and very strong team.

18

It’s probably just me, but while Wolffs departure may seem huge for the Williams team it’s probably not that big a deal. I mean what has he done there really?.. Bought cash in when the team was strapped, but other than that has he really done anything that another exec could not have done? He came in, talked big about fixing problems but let’s face it, he did it at a time when the probs at Williams were very obvious – it’s not like he was a visionary. I don’t see that team being better today than it was in the Montoya/BMW days for example.

He lost a lot of respect with me with silly stunts like giving his wife a drive – not even a front runner in DTM let alone open wheelers. Someone who is seriously focused on taking a team forward does not make selfish calls like that.

Yeah Williams is an old man and the team may look like they need young blood. But Wolf ain’t the only one who can offer that. Good luck to him I say, no big loss. Looks like Frank may think the same, he let Wolff go quite easy…

19

He brought in 0 Cash. He arranged an IPO so Mr Head could cash in. He rigged that whole thing ending up with a 19% stake for less than the IPO price as a front for an as yet unknown master

20

I was surprised not to see Schumacher as a partowner.

21

If Schumacher was interested in team ownership, he would probably have invested while he was driving for Mercedes. He has even said that more money was required to make the team competetive and successful, so if he was inclined to team investment, it makes sense that he would have committed funding when it would benefit him the most – as a driver.

22

I for one would like to Alex Wurz take a more prominent role at Williams. I understand he has been coaching/guiding the drivers this year, and he seems to me a bright guy. Perhaps Sporting Director, with a view to Team Principal when his own racing winds down?

23

James,

According to Sport Bild Paddy Lowe is gonna join Merc, and it is said to be Wolff’s initiative. Is it true?

24

James, any truth to the rumours that Paddy Lowe is joining Merc?

25

Very much doubt it. Saw him at Prof Watkins memorial and he was talking about 2013 and 2014

26

Things move fast in F1 it seems, interesting times for all.

27

Why oh why is it whenever Merc employ someone new all the team (expert) managers come out of the wood work?? I am pleased that not only are they employing the best for today they are looking to the future. This has to be good for LH. I personally think Merc are in for the long haul and can see you need solid foundations, then good infrastructure,then performance will follow.

28

Or it might be last chance saloon to get all the talent on board they can. They need to show the board they are taking steps to put the team in a good performance direction. Remember all it takes is a vote during a board meeting and for a couple of members to believe too much cash is being burnt for poor results and the plug could be pulled on the whole F1 team (see BMW, Honda, Toyota). Personally this team seems to have too many chiefs and not enough indians.

29

Rumor has it that Nick Fry is due to be replaced by Paddy Lowe from Mclaren.

30

Not going to happen the rumor I hear.

31

When are all the pieces going to be in place at Mercedes? It sure seems like a lot of instability in the team. To me, no matter the sport, an unstable management structure is not a recipe for success. I really want to see Lewis (and Nico to an extent) suceed at Mercedes, but I’m skeptical given the seemingly constant changes.

32

WHOA!!

What a shock!

And now, what about Susie?

Wheels within wheels. Talk about your conflicts of interest!

33
Tornillo Amarillo

Wolff will be an asset to the Mercedes Team.

So it is good news for Hamilton’s fans, and bad news for Williams’fans.

Mercedes is giving shares reducing its exposure, so that is good news for the financial health of Mercedes, but it seems they are also controlling everything with 60%.

So far so good for Mercedes, Hamilton and Rosberg.

I think Hamilton had his contract signature delayed in 2012 until having a compromise from Mercedes of not to withdraw from F1, I guess (so a compensation in money could be in place if that occurs).

I cannot understand if Wolff is allowed to keep his shares in Williams, I guess he shall sell it because of a conflict of interets. Same point with his wife working at Williams.

34

I somehow think Hamilton will not be short of offers from F1 teams even if Merc withdraws?

35

James / Anyone,

Could you help me here? Lauda said that the extra 50 billion are not coming from the Merc board. Merc are spending less than Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and even Lotus. Yet, they get Hamilton and a range of high profile engineers. Schuey rightly said that they need to spend more to win. Are they planning to spend more heavily for 2014/15? The whole thing just doesn’t make sense!

36

Well, I’m not an expert when it comes to the money / ownership side of F1, but my understanding is that if we think back to 2009, when the new regulations were introduced Mercedes (or Brawn) found a way to beat everyone by using these regulations to the maximum.

So, it could be that they are investing more for 2014, when the new regulations are put in place; so it could be that they are going to try and do the same here.

37

The only problem with Williams is that without Maldonado, there would be a large financial hole to plug, with Mercedes you don’t need to worry about that

38

Does this affect Susie Wolff’s role as a “development driver” for Williams? I realise that this is more of a PR role than a real development role, but wont there be some conflict of interest with Toto working for a rival team?

TS

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