When Toto Wolff Personified Mercedes’ ‘Culture’ after Hamilton Lost Easy F1 Win

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January 5, 2021 6:30 pm

The Mercedes F1 team is the very definition of German excellence. The Brackley-based outfit has obliterated the competition in the v6-hybrid era. Partly, their success has been attributed to their phenomenal drivers or their cars.

However, there is another aspect; one that is hardly talked about yet vital in keeping the team together and performing at a high level.

This aspect is the team culture. At Mercedes, they practice the ‘no-blame’ game. The team’s technical director James Allison said, “Pointing a finger at people and saying they’re to blame for something is verboten in our world.”

The German team’s chief designer John Owens went on to elaborate on that point.

“Culture’s everything. If you have a team where people feel afraid to make mistakes, or afraid to try for fear of how they might be viewed or, even worse, whether they keep their job, all those kinds of things promote a culture of conservatism in design and approach to problems.”

Formula One F1. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during practice REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/Pool

The aforementioned culture of conservatism isn’t there at Mercedes. Case in point, the DAS (Dual-Axis Steering) system. The Silver Arrows’ latest innovation was on full display last year. They used it to good effect during the races under the safety car period in order to keep the tires at the right temperature.

However, coming back to the culture practiced at Mercedes, Owens added took the example of the Baku incident of 2017.

No finger-pointing at Mercedes after headrest incident in Baku

The incident in question took place at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix of 2017. Lewis Hamilton was on course to win the race until a loose headrest forced him to pit, causing him to end the race in P5.

Formula One F1. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during qualifying FIA/Handout via REUTERS

Reflecting on that, Owens said, “I remember in Baku [in 2017] when Lewis’s headrest came out, Toto said ‘I will not identify any individual’, which is exactly right.

“Because my department could have designed something that couldn’t have been possible to be put in wrong, or someone could have double-checked it – there’s so many reasons why something happens. And to sort of try and single out one person, it’s just not our culture.”

With such a culture in place, it’s little wonder why the Silver Arrows have been so successful. Having won their seventh consecutive Constructors’ title in 2020, they’ll be hoping to make it eight, come the end of the year.

Ronan Carvalho

Ronan Carvalho is an F1 writer for EssentiallySports, he is an F1 enthusiast and a big fan of Kimi Raikkonen. Ronan is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in BMM at St Xavier's College (Mumbai).

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