Toto Wolff fires warning shot ahead of F1 2023 season: ‘Do not write us off’

Sam Cooper
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff on a balcony. Hungary July 2022.

Toto Wolff stands on a balcony during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend. Budapest July 2022.

Toto Wolff has warned Mercedes’ rivals not to write them off in 2023 despite a disastrous 2022 Formula 1 season.

2022 marked the Silver Arrows’ worst performance since the 2012 season and their poorest since Lewis Hamilton has been at the team as an inability to conquer a porpoising issue saw them start the year well off the pace.

The team, which won eight Constructors’ titles in a row and seven Drivers’ between 2014 and 2021, gradually improved, securing their only win of the season in Sao Paulo, but a question mark looms over them heading into 2023 with Wolff admittingly previously they are at a disadvantage compared to their rivals.

While Mercedes spent time fixing the problems with the W13, Red Bull and Ferrari were allowed to switch their focus to 2023 but Wolff has warned them not to get complacent and told them not to “write us off” in terms of those in Championship contention.

“Do not write us off,” Wolff told the Times. “In this life, you never stop giving it everything.”

The 51-year-old Austrian admitted they got “the physics wrong” when it came to the change in regulations for the 2022 season with too big a focus on seeking performance in a car that could run very low to the ground.

“It’s no myth,” Wolff said. “We misinterpreted some of the regulations. We put too much emphasis on seeking performance in a car that was supposed to run on the ground, very low.

“But you can’t run it so low, because it [the floor of the car] was hitting the ground. So we had to lift it up, which changed things again. It sounds like a trivial explanation, but this is the reality.”

This kind of error was something that Wolff had been preparing for, wary that Mercedes’ dominant streak was not going to last forever, but he said their success had come from the choice to empower the staff and when that went wrong, he as CEO had to take the blame.

“We’ve been lucky to win eight Constructors’ titles in a row, which is unprecedented,” Wolff said. “And that is due to the fact that we empower the staff here. If I started to meddle in technical decisions after such a winning streak that would be odd.

“So at that stage, I am in observer mode. I try to guide from a human perspective. Is there anything we need in additional resources? Having said that, I am responsible as the CEO and co-owner. And we, as a team, got it wrong.”

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Despite 2022 troubles, Mercedes among challengers in open title race

A few weeks out from the unveiling of the 2023 challengers, it seems that each of the three suspected contenders has their flaws in terms of heart title bid.

Red Bull remain the easy favourite with the RB18 earning a spot as one of the most dominant cars in F1 history but with a penalty on wind tunnel time added to their reduction due to their Constructors’ Championship, will the same be said of the RB19?

There is also the potential of disharmony brewing within the team as Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’s relationship appeared to deteriorate as the 2022 season went on.

Ferrari meanwhile are never too easy to predict and that is even more true with a new team principal in charge, regardless of his pedigree in the sport.

Mercedes have proven themselves a dominant winner in the recent history of the sport but there is a question as to how far back the issues with the W13 will have set them in terms of developing the 2023 car.

That is just the top three but there could be others vying for a spot on the front row with the likes of McLaren and Alpine looking to get themselves a seat at the top table.