Sky F1 presenters Ted Kravitz and David Croft agree that Toto Wolff’s leadership was not up to its usual standard in the F1 2023 season, scrutinising the Mercedes team principal’s reaction to the W14 car.
Having been restricted to just one win in the first year of F1’s ground-effect rules in 2022, Mercedes began 2023 with ambitions of returning to title contention.
Instead, the Brackley-based outfit suffered their first winless campaign since 2011 after the W14 arguably proved to he worse than its predecessor.
Toto Wolff judgement assessed by Sky F1 crew
A poor performance in the first qualifying session in Bahrain saw Wolff publicly abandon the team’s car concept, with a revised design introduced in Monaco at the end of May.
Technical director Mike Elliott also stepped back from his role before leaving Mercedes in October, with James Allison charged with leading the team’s recovery over the rest of 2023 and into 2024.
Appearing on the Sky F1 podcast, Kravitz admitted to being taken surprised by Wolff’s reaction to Mercedes’ post-qualifying reaction in Bahrain – and claimed Wolff, as team principal, must take responsibility for the team’s worst season in more than a decade.
He said: “The only thing I’d mark him down on was his keenness to throw the concept away so publicly after qualifying in Bahrain.
“We don’t really know why he he did sign off on the ‘sister of the bad car’, which is how Lewis Hamilton described it. W14 was the sister of W13 and they were both not great cars.
“Toto must have signed it off. As a leader, he could have said: ‘I disagree, let’s go with the Red Bull concept.’ But whatever reason they didn’t.
“He signed it off and then [after] that very first [qualifying] session – I remember the interview vividly – coming out so strongly and it took me aback when he said it.
“He said this car is weak. It’s bad. This was after qualifying. The first race.
“I know he was right, but to immediately throw the whole concept in the trash can then was the only [reason] I’m slightly thinking that it wasn’t quite the calm, assured Toto leadership that we’ve seen.”
Croft believes Wolff has become more reactive in his decision making since Mercedes’ fall from grace, adding: “I don’t think we saw the calm, assured Toto leadership at all times last year.
“And I think, if you’re talking leadership, was his leadership proactive or reactive? Was he reacting more to situations than [being] proactive, guiding the destiny of his own team?
“And the decision not to get rid of the sister [car], long before it came on to the track, meant that at the early stages a lot of it was very reactive. That little technical shuffle around was reactive.
“And one of the strengths of Mercedes since 2014 has been they’re not following a trend, they’re ploughing their own furrow for others to follow.
“And that is not the case at the moment, it seems from the outside.”
Kravitz went on to hint that Elliott’s gradual retreat from view was carefully orchestrated to shield the former from blame in light of Mercedes’ poor start to the season.
And he remains convinced that Wolff remains a force to be reckoned with following his skirmish with F1’s governing body the FIA last month.
He said: “[Wolff] saw that he made [Elliott and Allison] agree between themselves. As far as the public image was concerned, it was all Mike Elliott’s idea to step back as technical director, then go to Chief Technical Officer and then go to pastures new.
“With that all resolved James Allison really will step up. You’d expect him to step up.
“I think Toto has probably learned a lot from these two unsuccessful seasons, one win in two seasons.
“He’s got his failings, Toto Wolff, and maybe not being reactive is one of them.
“But you’ve got to say that he’s got his strengths and the recent issues with the FIA has shown that Toto’s not afraid to fight for himself, for his family and for his team.”
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