Toto Wolff in the hot seat


For those of you who don’t use twitter, here is a Q&A Toto Wolff did on Tuesday, in the aftermath of the Monaco GP

Q: Ray Armstrong @thearmstrongs79
@MercedesAMGF1 Just wondering after the race on Sunday did Toto or Paddy speak to Lewis about what happened or was best left alone.

TW: I spoke to him just after the race. But it’s best to let it calm down for a day or two. #AskToto

Q: Fiona Lockwood @FELockwood
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto lf Lewis now loses the championship by 10 points or less how will this look/be dealt with? #MonacoGP

TW: It would not look good but this is motor racing. Lewis has our 100% support #AskToto

Q: chris @chrisrmooney
@MercedesAMGF1 if Lewis passed vettel would you have asked nico to let Hamilton pass?

TW: Very good question. It would have been a very tough call to make #AskToto

Q: Dominika W. #TeamLH @mynameisdomii
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto Is that true that you have part of your family from Poland? Or do you have polish origin? 🙂 Greetings from Poland!?

TW: Yes, my mother comes from Poland and i have a lot of family in Bielsko. I actually speak a little Polish too.

Q: ollie curtis @MuchCurtis
@MercedesAMGF1 did anyone loose their job on Sunday? ?? #AskToto

TW: Absolutely not. We’re a World Championship team and we are not playing a blame game based on a single race.

Q: vicky gajjar @vickygajjar92
@MercedesAMGF1 #Ask Toto was that deliberate mistake to make the race towards championship interesting?

TW: Would we ever do this to the guy leading the Championship with Ferrari a real threat to us? Answer: NO

Q: TeamLH @blidabirdy
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto Why was the decision to pit Lewis made in the first place?

TW: We believed we could make a free stop to cover risk of cars behind on SuperSoft. Unfortunately our data was wrong

Q: Sara-Jane Perera @SaraJanePerera
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto do you need to take a more human approach to strategy as every1  watching monaco knew you made wrong call before you

TW: You need the right balance between data and gut feeling. Our tools told us we had the gap but they were wrong

Q: Carol @carolstrach
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto Track position is king so why oh why did anyone think pitting Lewis was a good idea?

TW: Under Safety Car you need 12 secs gap to maintain position. Our system showed us that we had that gap.

Q: Clare Boswell @clarebozzy
@MercedesAMGF1 did you not think you should have told Lewis that Nico & seb had not pitted? that would have calmed him #AskToto

TW: Vettel still had an opportunity to stop as he had not caught the Safety Car

Q: Ben Davies @BenBendavies86
@MercedesAMGF1 How do Mercedes AMG feel about the rumours that Lewis was purposely to have a 3 time winner on the team? Ben Davies #AskToto

TW: Whoever would start such rumours needs their head examined.

Q: Michael @MikeyDuncan44
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto Why doesn’t Lewis and Nico have their own strategist? Surely the team would get on even better with their own?

TW: Last year proved that we allow our drivers to have a fair and equal fight. Having one strategist allows this.

Q: Jon @mrjon1976
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto do you think that sometimes you can have too many people involved in the decision process, hence the confusion?

TW: We have a strict radio protocol and structure how our decisions are made. This is how we’ve won so many races

Q: Steven Lewis @JEEVES83
@MercedesAMGF1 why didn’t you tell nico to back off to into the first corner when lewis was coming out to get him past Seb? #AskToto

TW: Because Sporting Regs say you cannot drive “unnecessarily slowly” behind the safety car

@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto what have you done to ensure you don’t have same issues at Montreal like you did last year?

TW: Brakes are always a challenge in Montreal and it will be a key topic for us to solve

Q: David Tran EM360° @EM360Editor
@MercedesAMGF1 What were your key findings in the debriefs since and how will you look to improve strategically for the next races? #AskToto

TW: Improve software, better communication and a spice more common sense

TW: Just to make one thing clear, we’re right in the middle of this and just as frustrated about our mistake as many of you! #AskToto

TW: This is our life, we eat breathe sleep F1

Q: Sam Elliott @SamElliott64
#AskToto @MercedesAMGF1 was Nico a bit sheepish in the debrief after? Bet he couldn’t believe his luck!

TW: Nico showed great sportsmanship and said to the team he could feel their frustration.

Q: tommurray @clickboss1943
@MercedesAMGF1  Can you ever rebuild total trust with Hamilton and the team, after Monaco debacle, lost him the win?

TW: Trust is a key value within our team. One race doesn’t tip that over

Q: Francky @Frk_C
@MercedesAMGF1 #askToto : Ferrari is still clearly behind but do you think they can close all the gap this year and be a real threat?

TW: They can be a real threat and we percieve them as a real threat. You can never be complacent #AskToto

Q: Violet Cosford @VioletCx
@MercedesAMGF1 Are you happy with the way the team has handled the aftermath of the situation on Sunday? #AskToto

TW: We’re not happy about the situation itself & therefore there was no such thing as happiness about that incident

Q: nik pole @nikpole
@MercedesAMGF1 was there input from @LewisHamilton on whether to stop or not? Post race interview appeared to suggest there was #AskToto

TW: We told him to stay out and Lewis said “not good” & that the tyres had lost temperature (1/2)

TW: (2/2) We had one second to react and, combined with our wrong timing data, we made the mistake of calling him in #AskToto

Q: Mtc Chi @Mtc2211
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto good intentions aside, how do you manage the conflict of interests within the team? Do you understand fans’ concern?

TW: When two drivers fight for the championship, there is intense competition. We manage it transparently with them

Q: Merc F1™ Fans @MercF1Fans
@MercedesAMGF1 #AskToto Did the VSC have an impact on the mis-judgement?

TW: No. The decision was made one lap later.

Q: #WatchaReading @yourKOOB
@MercedesAMGF1 Q1/2: Why were the guys in the pit lane if there was no intention to pit thus bluffing your teammate? #AskToto

TW: You put the guys out sometimes to cover a potential late call

Q: Claire Ravenwood @button_rose1985
@MercedesAMGF1 ru bored of your “fans” asking stupid ?s bout “sabotage” when it was clearly just a wrong decision in heat of race #AskToto

TW: Criticism is OK but we have no respect for dumb comments or abuse

Q: Fibo Pascal @fibopascal
@MercedesAMGF1 I think you don’t get how massive a mistake you made. If you had the right gap you still should not have risked a pit stop!

TW: It’s true, there’s almost no overtaking in Monaco. But Ricciardo took Super Softs and overtook Kimi.

TW: Thank you to all of you that have shown great support for the team. It makes us even stronger for the future

25 responses to “Toto Wolff in the hot seat

    • In this household as, I suspect, in many others, it’s known as “Twatter” – I think that the sample of ‘questions’ listed above shows clearly that we’re not far off the mark…..

  1. I thought this was the most incredible interview because Toto indicates Mercedes will remain vulnerable to the same strategy errors that cost them a win in Sepang, and enabled them to be split by Ferrari at Monaco. Mercedes may not see their error.

    It’s worth putting Toto’s comments in context of two other professional opinions in the paddock, the tire engineers, and Inaki Rueda, Ferrari’s strategist. Then I’ll highlight Toto’s comments in light of their comments.

    First let’s look at Pirelli’s analysis.

    • Since this was a tire strategy error, what was the analysis of the race by Pirelli?

      Before the race, Pirelli noted the following:
      * Monaco has the least abrasive track surface of the season (so very little tire wear, little degradation)
      * Track is open to public road traffic on Friday after Thursday’s P1 & P2 sessions, which means what little rubber that is built up is partially removed.
      * Expected gap between compounds was ~1 second.
      * Recent history shows strongly that 1 stop is safest path to victory.

      After qualifying, and upon examination of FP1, FP2, & FP3 data, Pirelli said tire wear and degradation seen so far indicates the only reason to not do a 1 stop would be weather.

      After the race, Pirelli noted the following:
      * Despite the higher ambient and track temps in the race, the tire degradation and wear was very low as expected.
      * Sainz did 66 laps on a set of softs. (!!)
      * Pirelli predicted the winning strategy to be 1 stop around lap 27 (from SS to S), but instead the first stop of those on the podium was lap 37. (So tire deg and wear lower than expected.)
      * One stop strategy was the winning strategy as predicted.
      * They were as surprised as everyone else by Mercedes pitting Hamilton twice.

    • What was Ferrari’s opinion as to whether Hamilton was vulnerable?

      Immediately after the race, Arrivabene said about the safety car, “we were nervous at the beginning thinking about them to pit. We were looking for the window and (Ferrari’s strategist, Iñaki Rueda) said ‘we stay cool, they are doing a kind of show’. In any case, (Rueda) said that if they come in then we would stay out. He was really straightforward on this and he was right.”

      In their official press release, Arrivabene said, “…our competitors are intelligent and very strong, but we outsmarted them this time.”

      Ferrari’s engineering wisdom is similar to Pirelli; the tires dictate a single stop, and track position in Monaco is worth a few seconds per lap, it’s king. Their immediate reaction was comical, “they are doing a kind of show.” Ferrari makes clear that Mercedes pitting Hamilton wasn’t smart.

    • As seen above, Ferrari and Pirelli have made clear that the engineering wisdom from inside the paddock was that a single stop for tires was all that was needed to win, despite the late safety car and a cool track. Before the race there was no valid reason to stop twice, and as race results show, the conclusion is the same after the race.

      It’s clear the primary error was that Hamilton was not vulnerable to being passed by a car on SuperSofts.

      Here are the four responses where Toto directly addresses that strategic error. See if you can find in which of these responses that show Mercedes realizes the 2nd stop was not needed.

      Toto said:
      “We believed we could make a free stop to cover risk of cars behind on SuperSoft. Unfortunately our data was wrong.”
      “(We) need the right balance between data and gut feeling. Our tools told us we had the gap but they were wrong.”
      “Under Safety Car you need 12 secs gap to maintain position. Our system showed us that we had that gap.”
      “It’s true, there’s almost no overtaking in Monaco. But Ricciardo took Super Softs and overtook Kimi.”

      Wow! If Mercedes could do it again, they would again gamble 1st and 2nd place on an unnecessary pit-stop, if the gap is correct. Extraordinary!

      It’s hard to say whether or not Mercedes’ strategist, James Vowles, and their Executive Director Paddy Lowe actually believe in hindsight that it was the correct gamble. Perhaps this was a Mercedes bluff for their competition. But it’s likely that some of the wiser folks in other parts of the paddock might be chuckling in disbelief. I know I am.

  2. Toto is a human being and human beings make mistakes. He shouldn’t be thought of as one of James Bond’s villains but as a human being. He said that he was sorry. The rest of the team including the drivers are human beings and will make mistakes from time to time. The math was wrong. It’s one GP and it’s a long season with many GPs. Lewis will do well in Montreal as will Nico. The incident has provided talking points and article material for people. There may have been other things going on behind the scenes which lead the decisions that were made that may never publicly be known. Time to put Monaco to bed and think of Montreal. Grands prix wins along with consistent 2nd and 3rd place finishes with driver and constructor championships.

    • Seeing as how a Wolff error cost them at Malaysia and did again at Monaco, plus Wolff insisting that he use data rather than common sense means another error could crop up any time —— like in Montreal.

      • DWil – It would be surprising if Toto had anything to do with the strategic errors of Malaysia and Monaco. Mercedes pays good money to James Vowles to provide the team with strategy guidance.

        If assigning blame is important to you, then primary culprits are:
        1) Poor strategy from Vowles and his strategy crew. So Vowles failure to be fixed.
        2) If Vowles had the correct strategy (Toto indicates above that isn’t likely, but…) then it would be poor communication, (cross-talk / over-talk, or not timely enough communications). So systemic / process failure, which would be race engineering team leader failure to be fixed.

        • @Vortex Motio

          At the end of the day ultimately it is always the responsibility of senior management for any cockups their underlings make. (Think Whitmarsh and McLaren’s appalling pistops.) Senior management takes credit when things go well, they may as well accept responsibility when things go badly. (Think firm CEOs…)

          • @landroni – You’ve answered a question that nobody has asked.

            DWil’s comment indicates the Sepang and Monaco strategy errors were due to a performance issue by Toto. If Toto is providing the race strategy for both cars, then DWil would be correct.

            I’ve only pointed out two much more likely locations inside the team where the actual performance deficits likely led to that Monaco strategy error.

          • @Vortex Motio

            “I’ve only pointed out two much more likely locations inside the team where the actual performance deficits likely led to that Monaco strategy error.”

            After the Monaco brouhaha it was suggested on several occasions that the Merc pit wall lacked in leadership (“too many people talking” or similar). The only figure from the 3 Stooges that comes close to being a Team Principal there is Toto Wolff. Whichever the exact level where the error occurred, Toto is still open to accusations of perpetuating a “headless chickens” environment, and being ultimately responsible for the team’s errors of judgement. It’s not like Toto was not on the Merc pit wall that day and not involved in the decision making…

          • As landroni said, the “blame” rests, ultimately,cat the top of the heap… and that happens to be where Wolff resides.

            Additionally, in his interview, though he was as apologetic for the error as he was from moment one, it is obvious that his defense rests on relying on “the data.” In the instance of Monaco it didn’t take an F1 strategy data savant to know pitting Hamilton was the wrong move to make (and Wolff was involved in the conversation that led up to the ill-fated decision). Because of the actions that led to th mistake and the resultant post-race explanations, I don’t at all feel confident in knowing that a gross error in judgement or similar errors won’t take place in future races.

            I’m also unsure as to why what I’m relating suddenly seems out of bounds… but, oh well.

    • This situation reminds me of airplane designers. They have a saying: “We don’t know what can go wrong until it goes wrong”. In other words something that can cause a plane to crash and kill many people is something that just cannot be engineered out of the system.

      There is always something that can occur and they have no idea what it is or how it could happen until it does happen. This situation at Monaco seems to be one of those. The team didn’t know Lewis had seen the screens as he circled the track and Lewis didn’t know the team wasn’t prepared for Nico or that Nico hadn’t already pitted.

      It was a communication failure for sure, but it was also one of those situations whereby the more time goes by IE: the more wins Lewis picked up in a row, increased the likelihood of something going wrong interrupting his ability to keep winning.

      It reminds me of one of those mental games I play with myself and try and think of all the things that have or could have possibly happened throughout the world’s history. Such as, has a shark ever jumped out of the water and bit a plane or a helicopter. Probably not, but most likely given flights being low over water, S.E.A.L. training with Helicopters over the ocean etc, the likelihood increases.

      Another example is the bomber crews in WW2, they were required to fly 30 missions before being rotated out of dangerous assignments. The closer they got to 30 missions the more the likelihood increased of being shot down, crashing etc.

      It’s one of those random things that seems to happen occasionally in a perfect storm, in this case mis-communication, that causes an error. That’s been my take over the past bunch of days anyways, even though its a very long thought you can tell I’ve thought a lot about it. LOL

    • Heidi – I agree with your whole post.

      Candidly, I admire how Toto and Mercedes have been handling the mistake. In representing the team Toto has been upfront, somewhat transparent, and candid. Not all teams do that. It’s very helpful, I believe.

      In my long-winded comments above, the aim of my critique and analysis was on James Vowles and how the Mercedes team implements strategy.

  3. @Vortex Motio: Thank you. There are so many elements that go into making decisions like the ones that were made in Monaco. You try and be spot on with them but errors happen and sometimes those lead to less than optimal results. Toto will get blamed because he is the executive director and he will have to issue explanations and apologies as he has done. Many people will debate me, but I think that Toto has shown good leadership in a very difficult situation for the team with honest, transparency, being apologetic, etc. just like my father would have been in these situations. This season will be one of growth for my cousin as far as his management, leadership skills, etc. as he guides the team towards the desired outcomes.

  4. DWil – “…the “blame” rests, ultimately, at the top of the heap… and that happens to be where Wolff resides.”

    No, this is not Wolff’s team. Niki is the Chairman. The team is owned by Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is owned by Daimler AG. Daimler AG reports to its Board of Management. The Board of Management reports to the Supervisory Board and Daimler AG’s share holders. So if “blame” rests at the top, that would then be Daimler AG’s share holders.

    Meanwhile, the strategist, James Vowles reports to who knows, but that hierarchy is under Paddy Lowe. Paddy reports to either Toto or Niki (I don’t know).

    In any case the blame game may be entertaining to a few people, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

    In a dynamic, open organization, to prevent a failure from recurring, one needs to identify the root cause of the failure, determine which actions will prevent the recurrence, implement those steps, and measure and verify the implementation.

    Or instead, one could fire someone in the hierarchy above. Guess which method solves the problem more quickly.

    Dwil said, “…Wolff was involved in the conversation that led up to the ill-fated decision.” Really? That is news. Please share your info.

    • Cmon Vortex. This isn’t a semantics game. Niki’s not sitting there with the strategists and engineers in the booth – the Team – telling people when to box.

      Read Wolff’s statements again: “WE told him to stay out.” And, “WE believed he could make a free stop…” Not THEY, we. Obviously he was in the conversation. To think Wolff just sat there, arms crossed, saying nothing, means he’s really is to blame for what happened, rather than him only, ultimately, being responsible for the decision.

      • Also, perhaps you need to go back and read the comment thread and notice the consistent mentions of Wolff being the person making the error.

        To attempt to pick at me after scads of comments about the miscue is rather disingenuous of you.

        If you have an animus toward me just put it out there. Otherwise, let’s move on.

      • @dwil: The only people who honestly know which people made which decisions and whether those decisions were made individually or collectively are the people who were in the Mercedes garage during the grand prix. Unless someone that was in the garage during the grand prix actually states that this person made this decision individually and these people made these decisions collectively, it’s all speculation. At this point in the discussion, it seems like you’re looking for any reason to blame Toto for the pit stop problem in Monaco. Unless you know for an absolute fact that Toto and only Toto made the decision to box Lewis, then it’s unfair to place the blame for the problem at Toto’s feet. The team has moved on and is getting ready for Montreal and has basically said that they are moving forward. Has the discussion of the issue run its course in the court of public opinion or will it continue to be brought up an discussed until the stench from it is worse than opened milk that has been left out of the refrigerator for three weeks?

        • heidi , you began a comment with, “Toto Wolf is a human being and human beings make mistakes.” Were you addressing a language – English – error he made during an interview? No, you were addressing his role in a collective error in judgment that cost one of his drivers the race at Monaco.

          heidi, what is the above commentary’s headline? What it doesn’t say is, “Mercedes collective on the hot seat.”

          Were the long explanatory Q&A’s addressing the error conducted with Paddy Lowe? Peter Bonnington? Niki Lauda (remember your comment, the commentary headline and subsequent interview transcription, and the fact that I wrote, “long”)? Andrew Colvin? Simon Cole? Mark Ellis? Lewis Hamilton (after all, he is his side of the garage’s, Performance Engineer)?

          Of course the error was collective. Of course, Colvin and Cole should’ve been thrust in front of the cameras and microphones and been forced to provide a mea culpa as they spoke to the general public and global Hamfosi with heads properly bowed and hands bound with flax rope.

          Of course the man who was spoken to was Toto Wolff. Of course the man who took the brunt of the gaffe at Malaysia was —— Toto Wolff.

          So, of course, I and many other people are going to point at Toto Wolff, even those of us, like myself ——- and you, who know the Mercedes roster.

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