Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in strong response to Helmut Marko, Sergio Perez controversy

Oliver Harden
Toto Wolff looking down. Spa, Belgium. July 2023

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff in the paddock at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, says Helmut Marko’s controversial comments about Red Bull driver Sergio Perez have no place in Formula 1.

Marko courted controversy following the recent Italian Grand Prix by erroneously describing Perez – F1’s only Mexican driver – as South American, before going on to claim Perez’s struggles alongside team-mate Max Verstappen in 2023 can partly be explained by the nature of his background.

With Marko coming under extreme criticism, it emerged that the Austrian met with Perez ahead of this weekend’s Singapore GP to issue a face-to-face apology.

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was fiercely critical of Marko’s comments ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, describing the 80-year-old’s words as “completely unacceptable.”

Wolff was joined in the team principals’ press conference in Singapore by McLaren’s Zak Brown, Haas’s Guenther Steiner and Alfa Romeo’s Alessandro Alunni Bravi – and gave a dim view on the matter as all four were invited to speak out on Marko’s comments.

Steiner said: “Stereotyping these days doesn’t work anymore. You need to be careful what you say. Sometimes it’s very difficult to do because what you say you don’t mean it and then you shouldn’t say it obviously if you’re aware of it.

“I didn’t hear it was well because I could understand in German how it was said, so I just read it – in translation maybe it sounds different.

“But I think it is what it is and I think that they are dealing with it – and I was surprised to hear that Mexico is in South America!”

With Steiner’s final remark causing uproar in the media room, Wolff offered a reminder that to laugh it off is to underestimate the challenge facing F1 when it comes to improving diversity.

He explained: “We’re laughing about the South America [comment], but it’s a topic that’s not at all funny.

“It’s not only what has been said, but it’s the mindset that you can even come up with these things and that hasn’t got any place in Formula 1.

“That’s not something that should have been said in the past and certainly not now [or] in the future.

“We all know that we need more diversity in Formula 1, more inclusion and the teams do their best to create an environment where this is possible and obviously statements like this don’t shine the light on Formula 1 that Formula 1 deserves for all of their activities.”

Brown, speaking on behalf of the McLaren team where Perez spent a single season in 2013, added: “I think you have to be very careful what you say to anybody. It was not a great comment, we can understand why people were offended by it.

“I didn’t hear it myself, I’ve only read it. But you have to be very respectful of everyone and not make comments that can be viewed inappropriately.” recommends

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Perez began his F1 career with the Sauber team – currently competing as Alfa Romeo – in 2011, with current boss Alunni Bravi particularly passionate on the subject of Marko’s comments.

He said: “I fully agree and, for me, it’s very important that as Formula 1 – as a community – we need to be respectful.

“We started a path together going towards diversity and inclusion, and this must be factual. We don’t need just to have a strategy in place. We need to have behaviours that show to people how we value this in Formula 1 and we need to be careful how to comment [on] things.

“I’m Italian, so I know that sometimes we have been facing the same comments as Italians. I think that everyone must be respected. We are all working hard, we are all trying to prove that we can do a good job here in Formula 1 at any level from drivers to people.

“We just need to show inclusion and to show that Formula 1 is an open community where everybody can find his place or her place.”

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