Toto Wolff weighs in on F1’s heated sport vs entertainment debate

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

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff in the paddock.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has dismissed suggestions that F1 has become more about the show than the sport, insisting there is a balance to be struck between the two ideals.

F1 has made a concerted effort to increase its worldwide appeal since Liberty Media took control of the sport in 2017, with innovations such as Drive to Survive, the hit Netflix docuseries, hugely popular.

The sport held three separate events in the United States in 2023 – in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas – with F1’s stakeholders also experimenting with the format of a race weekend, introducing Saturday sprint races in 2021.

Toto Wolff calls for ‘calibration’ in sport vs show debate

The number of sprint races per season were doubled from three to six for 2023, with the format tweaked to incorporate an extra qualifying session known as the sprint shootout.

The sprint format is expected to be changed once more for 2024 with the shootout set to potentially be moved to Friday.

Although some long-term fans feel alienated by F1’s various innovations under Liberty Media, Wolff has rejected the notion that the entertainment factor has taken over – and he believes new and innovative ideas should be encouraged.

He told Bloomberg: “Do we go beyond the sport, too much entertainment? No, I don’t think so.

“We’re trying different formats with the sprint race weekends and Las Vegas, racing in the night.

“And if it needs calibration to provide a better show, while staying true to our values of the honest sport, I think we’ve got to try it.

“But the core product, the grand prix on Sunday, within the regulations – financial, technical and sporting – is always what Formula 1 has been all about.” recommends

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The topsy-turvy relationship between Wolff and his Red Bull opposite number, Christian Horner has been serialised since the 2021 season in particular, with the two teams having fought tooth and nail for both titles that year.

The back-and-forth between the two has been one of the overriding narratives ever since, with that providing one of the key off-track storylines that fans have latched onto in recent seasons.

On the track, Mercedes finished second behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship in 2023, and Wolff acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done to get on terms in 2024.

“When you win on a day like today, P2, it reminds you that you lost P1,” Wolff told the media including in Abu Dhabi.

“And I think we need to take it on the chin, be humble about it, and consider today as a good day.

“Nevertheless, you know there is a Mount Everest to climb in order to catch up with Red Bull.

“I have no doubt that McLaren is going to be right in the mix next year, maybe Aston Martin, maybe others. We must leave no stone unturned which is what we do in Brixworth and in Brackley.

“As tough as it is to be reminded that it’s just P2, it’s also a great, great opportunity to come back and drive for the stars.”

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