Wolff: 'Mercedes is in F1 for the long-term'

F1
Toto Wolff and Sir Jim Ratcliffe with the new 2020 Mercedes livery

Wolff, left, dismissed suggestions that Mercedes would quit F1

Mercedes

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Chris Medland

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Twelve months ago – very nearly to the day – the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall was playing host to a new livery unveiling. On that occasion, the tie up between Haas and Rich Energy was shown to the world with a black and gold colour scheme that proved to be a short-lived venture.

So it wasn’t without irony that Mercedes launched a new partnership at the very same venue – placing its car under a cover in exactly the same spot – and at the same time faced questions on just how short-term the remainder of its time in Formula 1 might be.

“This is what we do, we build race cars and we build road cars.”

The car positioning was the same; the room was the same; the stage location was the same; so much of today’s announcement was identical. But – and I mean no disrespect to Haas here – there was no getting away from the fact that there was a very different feeling around the announcement from Mercedes and INEOS.

Major names in the front row included the general manager of the INEOS cycling team, Sir Dave Brailsford, intently listening to Toto Wolff and Sir Jim Ratcliffe speak about the partnership.

And as interesting as the new deal is, what we really wanted to know about was the future of three key aspects of the team that runs under the three-pointed star: Lewis Hamilton, Toto, and Daimler’s overall backing.

A five-year contract very much suggests a team that is going nowhere, but this was the first opportunity to really grill Wolff on where he sees things heading beyond this year. If the physical deal wasn’t going to quash speculation, then its announcement was at least going to provide the platform to address it.

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It didn’t take long for any one of the three questions to be raised, and first up was the team itself.

“We are in this for the long-term,” he insisted. “This is what we do, we build race cars and we build road cars. Formula 1 is the halo platform for hybrid engineering, something that is not communicated enough because it was talked down at the beginning of the hybrid era. It’s something we should put more emphasis on.

“We like the platform but at the same time we are in negotiations with the rights holders and things need to be sorted out. But the partnership is something that indicates our wish to continue our successful journey in Formula 1.”

Although he wasn’t taking a full leaf out of Gunther Steiner’s book – with the Haas team principal last year openly stating all teams will at least threaten to walk away in order to strengthen negotiating positions – Wolff quickly made clear that Mercedes is not yet in a position to sign a new commercial contract for 2021 onwards with Liberty Media and the FIA.

Toto Wolff speaking next to Sir Jim Ratcliffe at the Royal Automobile Club ahead of the 2020 F1 season

Wolff: ‘Mercedes committed to F1 but not ready to sign 2021 commercial contract’

Mercedes

“It’s an ongoing process and it’s a complicated set of contracts – a tri-lateral contract between the FIA, the commercial rights holder and all the teams, and the devil lies in the detail. I wouldn’t want to commit to a specific date because there are quite some topics that remain to be agreed on. It’s a work in process and clearly there is the will and the wish of all of the stakeholders to come to a close before we embark on the 2021 season, because that would be an uncomfortable situation.”

As fans grew ever-more impatient on social media that they had to sit through a live stream of a press conference while awaiting a sight of a new livery, the Twitter rage threatened to overshadow some key messages regarding both Hamilton’s future and Wolff’s own, as the Austrian exuded a confidence that both would be sorted positively even if they are in no rush.

But there was a nerve that was pressed at one stage. A recent report suggested Daimler was about to seriously discuss pulling out of F1 at a board meeting, triggering a complex set of moves that could have gone as far as Lawrence Stroll and Aston Martin involvement. It seemed fanciful – if not impossible – at first, and even more so after the recent Stroll investment into Aston that will see Racing Point become the Aston Martin F1 team in 2021. But if Daimler was to have such a serious discussion, it is something that Wolff is likely to only be partly privy to at first.

So, while there is a degree of reading between the lines here, when that subject was brought up, Wolff’s extremely strong riposte would suggest he has had assurances from above that the backing will continue for some time to come.

“Formula 1 has always been a great provider of headlines over the winter break and by the sheer lack of racing results and controversy on track, dropping a bombshell of a headline online always helps. In that respect, I am always surprised that there is some lunatic out there that writes something on a website and it gets picked up, but it was a complete nonsense story that was put straight on the following day by the CEO of Daimler.

“With everything we do, we have to question if it is the right activity. We, as Daimler today, see the advantages that Formula 1 as a marketing platform gives us and we see it in the data. That is the underlying condition why we are doing, but Formula 1 is one of the greatest returns on investment that we do and there are numbers thrown out in the public that are simply untrue.

“This is an exercise that costs little in comparison to the billions in marketing value that is being generated. I strongly believe we have developed from a brand that was for the elderly to one for the young, and we see in the statistics that our average age of customer has come down a lot.

“AMG provides a large chunk of the profits of Daimler. Emotion is important and every marketing activity that is out there is to create emotion – and this is what we do, we provide emotion. So these headlines get created over the winter and I didn’t like that one because we have 2,000 people worried about their jobs and that one was just nothing.”

Toto Wolff and Sir Jim Ratcliffe take the covers off a car with Mercedes 2020 livery at the Royal Automobile Club

The covers come off after a lengthy build-up

Mercedes

Eventually, fans got their wish and the talking stopped as the cover was removed from the 2019 car carrying the updated livery.

The design itself was very much the same as last year’s with additional red sections to promote the INEOS branding, but the only red flags from the whole event will be for Mercedes’ rivals that the dominant team of the past six years looks set to stay for some time yet.

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