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The Mercedes secret: the principle of 'love in pain'

The Mercedes secret
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D he balance sheet of the Mercedes Formula 1 team is almost perfect . Mercedes has won all world titles since 2014. Plus 74 GP victories in five years. Mercedes endured the major regulatory reform in Formula 1 in 2017 and most recently fought off challenger Ferrari twice. The Italians have come closer and closer to the Silver Arrows, but not close enough. In the end, with all due respect for the exceptional driver Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes also beat their opponents because they have the better team.

Hamilton also admits: “I can only achieve my best if my team gives me my best a perfect car. We had some difficult moments this season and each time we pulled ourselves out as a team. 'Team boss Toto Wolff returned the compliment:' We had some ups and downs this year. Our car wasn't always the fastest in the field. Lewis made the difference. ”

Don't lose your head

The 2018 season was the best example in the Wolff era of why the successful Mercedes community worked so well. As in 2017, Ferrari was on the verge of winning this world championship. This season Ferrari offered the better car for long stretches. To the extent that even Mercedes found it difficult to find answers to why Ferrari was so fast on the straights without losing time in the corners. The possibility of developing in the wrong direction under the pressure, losing track of troubleshooting, and making bad decisions at the command post was greater than ever. In the end, this is exactly what happened to Ferrari from a position of strength.

One of the defending champions' qualities is not to lose one's head in critical phases. “There were moments in the first half of the season when we had no idea where it was going. But it was precisely those moments when we fell behind that brought out the best in us. We pulled ourselves together and found our way back. The team and the drivers. I think that was the key. The whole team can be proud of that ', praises Hamilton.

Every session begins with the weak points

Wolff sees the secret in an honest analysis and the correct conclusions from it:' We have ours We discussed strengths and weaknesses internally, put our fingers in the wounds, but still kept calm. In such cases needsthere is brutal honesty within the team. Dealing with your own mistakes is important for the further development process. So we understood the car and the tires better and better and gained lap time. ”

Not all of them withstand the self-critical course straight away. 'We'll teach anyone who has problems with it,' explains Wolff. The Austrian calls the principle behind the relentless openness 'tough love'. One could translate it as “love in pain”. Every briefing on the Monday after a race weekend therefore begins with a list of the weak points. If there's a fire and one race follows the other, the lights in the factory don't go out.

The engineers stayed true to their plan even during the Ferrari peak. There is no shooting in all directions in the hope that something will be hit. Only the pace of development has been accelerated. 'After the summer break, we brought new parts to every race to keep up the pressure on our opponents,' explains Wolff. Ferrari tried the same, but got on the wrong track. Instead of immediately recognizing the fault in the system, as Mercedes did, they blamed adverse circumstances or breakdowns in work processes. Before Ferrari realized that the supposed progress was a step backwards, three races and thus the title were given away.

Sebastian Vettel relativized: “It was difficult for us to see where the mistake was. I don't know where the problems were at Mercedes when they did. Maybe it was easier for them to find their way back. ”

Wolff's share in the success: One thousand six hundredths

Just like at Ferrari in the Schumacher era, they also take part Mercedes the question. But what makes the series world champion so good? Why does he pull his head out of every noose and return all the stronger after every mini-crisis? And how much Toto Wolff is behind the success machine? The surprising answer: 'Exactly one thousand six hundredths'. In other words: everyone of the 1,600 employees in Brackley and Brixworth is equally important to success. Anyone who conducts politics on their own account has to deal with the boss. 'We do not allow politics in the team ..'

Wolff refuses to claim that he put his stamp on the team. “It would be the first step to defeat if I attributed the success to my management style alone. This team has grown to be what it is over the years. Like our car, it is constantly changing. Our organization is a dynamic structure. ”Nor does he want to compare himself with his predecessor Ross Brawn, with whom he formed a dual leadership in the first year. “It would do people an injustice to reduce them to one factor in 60 seconds. The topic is too complex for that. ”

Wolff's merit is explained by the fact that everyone in the team always has to question each otherAttention is paid to detail and yet the key figures are given enough freedom so that they can achieve their best performance. There is a clear objective that everyone in the hierarchy under the boss is allowed to meet in his own way, but must also meet. The 46-year-old Viennese sees himself as fulfilling the targets set by the executive board in Stuttgart. Who give back this trust and do not interfere in the interests of the racing team.

Here, too, Mercedes differs significantly from Ferrari. At the time, the Stuttgart-based car company carefully brought Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda on board as shareholders. Your own risk increases the hunger for success. Wolff admits: “What drives me is the stopwatch. I feel painful about failure. And the feeling of happiness of victory is gone the moment I land at home on the plane. ”Ferrari is structured quite differently from Mercedes: from top to bottom. The boss is always right. It can take a while until an error is discovered in the system, because from the point of view of individual people it cannot be what must not be.

The model was Freiherr von Moltke

Wolff copied the leadership principle of “empowerment” from the German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. The general granted his officers extensive freedom of action in carrying out the combat mission. Wolff puts it this way when applied to racing: “I depend on my people. I can't design an aerodynamic structure, instead I have to create a safe environment for the aerodynamicist to thrive in. The goals we set our people have to motivate them. Then there is no risk of complacency creeping in. ”

That is why the first man in the Mercedes racing team is not sitting at the command post like many of his colleagues, but at a desk in the middle of the pit garage. “Our chief strategist James Vowles flies the plane in the race. I give my input, but I will not interfere with it. The strategy is his realm. ”This basis of trust is a cornerstone of a stable apparatus. Here the former investment banker unpacks his psychological background knowledge: “In order to give and receive trust, you have to deal with people. Most of the time, after the first conversation, I notice whether someone is being honest or trying to manipulate me. '

Wolff does the same with the drivers. Lewis Hamilton can jet back and forth between races between the continents, make his music and go to as many fashion shows as he wants. He just has to do his job on the racetrack. “If this is important to Lewis, it would be stupid if I forbade him to travel. It's much more important to be successful to have happy drivers. ”Alluding to Hamilton's former employer, McLaren, Wolff says,“ It's wrong to put drivers in a cage. ”And besides, according to the team boss, Hamilton is anything but superficial. The private escapades give the wrong impression. “I have never seen a driver who asks himself as much as Lewis.”

Alain Prost's tip

Despite the successes, the last few years have brought painful tests with them. Especially during the time when the world championship title was held exclusively among Mercedes drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg threw away victories again and again because they got in each other's way in the fight for supremacy on the track. This ultimately led to a warning to the two star pilots and to the introduction of a code of conduct for duels.

Looking back, Wolff admits that it was a difficult time to tame the two alpha animals. 'In their duel, the two of them sometimes overshot the target to the detriment of the team.' In an emergency, Wolff remembered a conversation with Alain Prost, who told him about his experiences from the conflict with his archenemy Ayrton Senna the driver mediated. “Alain said that the biggest problem for him back then was the lack of transparency in the team. He never knew who was the darling at McLaren, and which side the people were on. ”The conclusion:“ You have to talk openly with your drivers, even if the truth hurts. ”

The Dispute flared up again after the 2016 World Cup final in Abu Dhabi when Hamilton tried to drive Rosberg into the clutches of the competition by deliberately slowing down in order to make up for the points he lacked for the World Cup. The plan failed and Hamilton received harsh criticism. Also from your own team. He was accused of being too selfish and even risking victory in the race out of self-interest.

The conversation at the kitchen table

This was followed by a clarifying conversation after the 2016 Christmas party at the kitchen table in Wolff's house in Oxford. “We talked about all things openly and in the end managed to get someone to trust me who basically doesn't trust me. I told Lewis that for a good job you had to be able to argue. If someone disagrees, you have to move the conversation from an emotional to a rational level. This makes it easier to find a common denominator. Since then, our relationship has been even closer. ”With the result that each season after that, Hamilton saw the best Hamilton ever.

Toto Wolff has a lot of balls in the game. There is the Formula 1 team, there is the Formula E project that replaces the DTM. At the same time, the Austrian supervises a stable of racing drivers and is also busy in the big Formula 1 politics. Quite a few assume that Wolff has ambitions to lead the entire sport. Isn't it difficult to keep track of things? For Wolff it is a question of how much capacity he has andhow many of the tasks he delegates. “I have a lot of good people who have more experience and detailed knowledge in the individual areas than I do. You don't have to be on the dance floor to know what's going on on her. It is enough if you have a good overview from the balcony. ”


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