Mercedes shareholder and executive director of Mercedes F1 Toto Wolff says team principal Ross Brawn is in charge of his own destiny and will decide his own future at the Brackley-based team.
The management structure of the team, which tasted World Championship success in the form of Brawn GP in 2009 and oversaw the early years of the team’s reincarnation as Mercedes, is going through a transition.
Following the arrival of Wolff and also Niki Lauda as non-executive chairman of the team, Nick Fry stepped down from his role as CEO in March, while there is much speculation that Paddy Lowe, who has stepped down from his role as technical director at McLaren, is on his way to the team for the beginning of the 2014 season.
Brawn’s role as team principal has been the subject of speculation, but the former Ferrari and Benetton technical director has said he will decide on his long term future once he sees how the changes in the team work out.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Wolff hinted that Brawn, who took a sabbatical from the sport when Michael Schumacher retired at the end of the 2006 season before returning with Honda in 2008, may not necessarily want to continue in the long term.
Wolff, 41, adds that Brawn, 58, may take on a role similar to that of Patrick Head, who stepped down as technical director – with Sam Michael taking over – and took on the role as director of engineering a decade ago, reducing his day-to-day involvement in the running of the team.
“The ball is in his court. Ross is conscious that he will not do this forever,” said Wolff. “We are committed long term and he needs to look after someone who is able to do it.
“Ross doesn’t need to stay doing what he is doing at the moment. I’m not pushing him out. He isn’t sure if he wants to do it in same way, [with all the] travelling, like Patrick Head did at Williams.
“Who am I to push Ross Brawn out? That guy won 15 world championships, with three different teams and won races with four different teams.”
“Paddy is one of the most credible guys to go into a senior position and lead a team technically,” said Wolff. “In my mid to long term view, Ross has a good sentence: ‘Performance is power’. So it is a kind of unspoken secret that Paddy Lowe is going to join Mercedes.
“If Paddy joins us, it’s going to be in a very structured way and Ross is the manager of his own destiny. Not only because of performance but because we respect what he has done in the last 20 years. He is a very valuable senior guy in Mercedes GP. Let’s see how that fits together.”
Brawn is a technical-based team principal who prefers to leave the business and commercial aspects of the team to others, hence his long link up with Fry. Wolff has since come in and taken on those duties, which allows Brawn to focus on the role he enjoys and does best.
“When Ross came back from sabbatical he did it as a team principal,” said Wolff. “Nick was like a foreign minister for the team, doing sponsorships, commercial alliances. [He’s] someone who I rate.
“But Ross was doing the whole lot; the job of team principal with relationships with FIA, commercial rights holder, FOTA as well as managing the company and being the leader at the same time as the technical leader. He was the most successful technical director ever.
“When I came in, we decided to split it and he dumped all the non-technical parts onto me. So I have taken all that burden away from him as well as the commercial stuff that Nick Fry did. I manage it on a day-to-day basis in a close interaction with Ross.
“From my side it’s a nice working relationship. We have a good discussion and a good split of what we do but we are having a laugh also. He said to me, please take this role, it’s not my world anyway.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Wolff also spoke about how the Mercedes are keen to use an “entrepreneurial” model for running its F1 team as the German automobile giant is keen to learn from the mistakes of other manufacturers such as Toyota, BMW and Honda, which were too corporate in their approach.
Wolff said: “I looked at all the other manufacturers who were in there and my analysis was that they didn’t give themselves enough time. You need to the resources, financials and human. Good people. You need to form the whole lot into a team and you also need an engine of course.
“Each of those teams was lacking one of the ingredients. Because of that they were pouring loads of money in and they were not as successful as they expected to be so they pulled out. If you are the BMW board or Toyota or Honda and the third time in a row they tell you ‘Next year is going to be the year’, after a certain stage you don’t commit the money any more.”
Instead, Mercedes will give Wolff the freedom to manage the company “the way an F1 team should be managed”.
“They have changed the model,” added Wolff. “They are not running it 100% themselves any more. They have taken in guys and given them the freedom to manage the company autonomously and efficiently, like an F1 team should be managed. So although the majority owner is a multinational corporation based in Germany, they are letting us do it, in their name – amazing – as long as we respect that governance framework of the multi national corporation.
“The board said to me, ‘try to restructure it, if you are not successful keep those bullets away from us because they are damaging the brand and if we are successful then it helps the brand’.
“They were giving me a long leash; I’m still on a leash. If you forget that, then it becomes dangerous. I’m on a dog leash but one of those where I can run 30 metres. And they understood that you have to give yourself time. Money cannot buy time. None of the other manufacturers gave themselves time, And time does not mean three years. It means ten years. So they have committed to F1 until 2020.”