Toto Wolff: A ‘fair question’ whether I remain right person to lead Mercedes

By Sports Desk March 24, 2024

Toto Wolff admitted it was a “fair question” whether he remained the right person to lead Mercedes – after Lewis Hamilton’s worst ever start to a season was confirmed at the Australian Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz delivered the best drive of his career, just 16 days after surgery for appendicitis, to take advantage of Max Verstappen’s shock first retirement in two years to lead home a Ferrari one-two finish from Charles Leclerc.

But over at Mercedes, Hamilton’s afternoon ended on the 17th lap when his engine expired as team-mate George Russell crashed out.

Hamilton, who qualified 11th, has taken just eight points from the opening three rounds. His previous worst start to a season had been in 2009 when he was disqualified at the first round before finishing sixth and seventh.

Before Sunday’s retirement, Hamilton had begun the year by crossing the line only seventh and ninth in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia respectively.

Mercedes carried Hamilton – who is heading to Ferrari next year – to six of his seven world championships, but the British driver has not won a race since the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign, 58 rounds ago.

Last year, Hamilton finished second in Melbourne, but Russell, who was the fastest Mercedes driver in Melbourne this weekend, was only seventh when he crashed.

Wolff, who has been team principal at Mercedes since 2013, was asked if he should remain in his role.

“As a corner of this business, I need to make sure my contribution is positive and creative so I would be the first one to say if somebody has a better idea, tell me because I am invested to turn this team around as quickly as possible,” the 52-year-old replied.

“We have not swallowed a dumb pill since 2021. We don’t understand some of the behaviours of the car and in the past we would.

“I look at myself in the mirror every single day about everything I do and it is a fair question. But it (leaving) is not what I feel that I should do at the moment.

“But if you have any ideas as to who could turn this round, I would happily listen to that.

“The big difference is, this is my job and if you ask the manager question, I cannot go to Chelsea or Liverpool or over to Ferrari.

“I have not got that choice (as a co-owner of Mercedes) which is also unfortunate. I am not a contractor or an employee, who has said I have had enough of this. My hamster wheel keeps spinning and I cannot jump out.

“We always need to look at ourselves. I need to look at myself. And we are all humans. Data doesn’t take decisions; humans do.

“I would be lying if I said I feel positive and optimistic about the situation. You need to overcome the negative thoughts and say ‘we will turn it around’, but today it feels very, very, very brutal.”

Mercedes arrived for the new season armed with a car that they thought would enable them to return to the front. But the Silver Arrows are now behind not just Red Bull, but Ferrari and McLaren in the pecking order, too.

An honest Wolff continued: “We started this season in the belief that this car was better than last year.

“Everything I have done before, in finance and investment, you know which screws to turn and you know sometimes it takes time.

“Here, I don’t think we are missing things. It is just a complication that is happening with the car that we cannot see, and it is like an on-off switch.

“You see the progress that McLaren and Ferrari have made, so on one side, I want to punch myself on the nose. We have got to really dig deep because it is brutally painful.”

Despite his poor weekend in Melbourne, Hamilton was upbeat. His pain perhaps soothed by Ferrari’s impressive display at Albert Park.

“Surprisingly I feel pretty good,” said Hamilton, with Wolff also admitting his soon-to-be-departing driver “is looking over the fence” at Ferrari’s impressive performances.

“I’m trying to keep things in perspective because things could be so much worse.

“I’m still enjoying working with the team. Of course I’d like to be (competing for wins) but we will bounce back. We will eventually get there.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and be focused on this one thing. But the bigger picture is definitely the focus. And also, just realising that you can’t control everything.

“It’s not great. I’m not happy. But I’m going to have a great day tomorrow.”

Despite the brake failure on lap four which ended his bid for a record-equalling 10 straight wins, Verstappen still remains in charge of the championship with a four-point lead over Leclerc, ahead of the next round in Japan on April 7.

Related items

  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

  • Canadian Grand Prix 'an opportunity missed', admits Russell Canadian Grand Prix 'an opportunity missed', admits Russell

    George Russell secured Mercedes their first podium of the Formula One season at the Canadian Grand Prix, but felt his third-place finish was a missed opportunity.

    The British driver was on pole for the first time since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2022 and led for the first 21 laps before being overtaken in quick succession by McLaren's Lando Norris and eventual winner, Max Verstappen. 

    In a contest that saw the drivers endure difficult conditions and in which five cars failed to finish, Russell did manage to regain first place from his compatriot on lap 27 following the safety car being deployed, but again found himself chasing Norris after running wide. 

    He dropped to fourth behind Oscar Piastri, but would reclaim a podium place with his fresh medium tyres for the closing laps, enough to get past the Australian and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who were on the hard compounds.

    Red Bull's Verstappen claimed his sixth victory of the season, extending his championship lead over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to 56 points after a weekend to forget for the Italian team. 

    Speaking after the race, Russell believed he had the pace to catch the Dutchman before his coming together with Piastri, but enjoyed being back at the front of the pecking order despite admitting to a few mistakes. 

    "It feels like a missed opportunity, to be honest," said Russell shortly after the conclusion of the race. "We were really quick at the beginning of the race on the inters, and then obviously Lando came through really fast.

    "Then we got back on to the slicks, made a couple of mistakes out there just pushing the limits and paid the price for it.

    "Nevertheless, first podium of the year and we truly had a really fast car this weekend and to be back in the mix fighting for victory was really fun.

    "When we put the mediums on at the end we were really, really fast and I think that mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe we could have fought with Max later in the race."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.