Motorsport

Is Toto Wolff Right Person To Lead Mercedes? ‘It's A Fair Question’ Says The Team's Boss

Carlos Sainz delivered the best drive of his career to lead home a Ferrari one-two finish from Charles Leclerc at the Australian Grand Prix. But over at Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon ended on the 17th lap when his engine expired as team-mate George Russell crashed out

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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff watches the first practice session of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park, in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
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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. (More Formula One News)

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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Mercedes driver George Russell of Britain steers his car into pit lane during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park, in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Scott Barbour,Pool)
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“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.”

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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.

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