Wolff admits he almost turned down Mercedes to stay at Williams

Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff

Toto Wolff has revealed he almost turned down the chance to become head of motorsport at the Brackley-based Mercedes F1 team.

Wolff quit as Williams’ executive director last month to move into the Mercedes hot seat as the replacement for Norbert Haug, despite being earmarked as the long-term successor to eponymous team owner Sir Frank Williams.

Following initial talks with Mercedes before Christmas, Wolff considered long and hard before making a final decision on his future - with Williams’ likely reaction to his departure uppermost in his thoughts.

In the end, the 41-year-old Austrian’s three-year stint at Williams came to an amicable end - much to his relief.

“I was fully committed to Williams,” Wolff told the official Formula One website.

“But then, when the Mercedes opportunity came up, it meant not only being involved with the Formula One team and running it, but also - on the motorsport side - taking over Norbert Haug’s legacy of 22 years as a motorsport director.

“I said to myself this is an opportunity that only comes along every 20 years.

“What was a real problem was the guys at Williams. I was there for three years and in various operational roles in the last year and people started to trust me. I was named as the successor.

“In reality there will never be a successor to Frank Williams, but I was meant to run the team. How was I going to tell Frank? That was really hard.

“I gave myself one week to see how I felt and after the third day I almost decided to stay at Williams.

“I like the people there so much - everybody, from the race team, to the marketing department to Frank himself. They all have been somewhat part of my family and to tell them that I was leaving was very hard. But then the opportunity is so huge.

“I spoke to the board and there was not one bad feeling. They all wished me luck and my relationship with them is completely intact.

“Frank’s first comment was, ‘That’s interesting. I would do the same if such an opportunity came my way!’”

Wolff’s arrival at Mercedes gave way to suggestions that the German manufacturer was planning a shake up of its F1 operation, with rumours circulating that team principal Ross Brawn would be ousted to make way for McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe.

Wolff insists that it would be wrong to make any snap decisions over personnel, with the team very much still finding its feet after returning to the sport in 2010.

“Formula One needs patience,” said Wolff.

“When you look back in history it shows that you cannot turn around a team within a couple of years. But then, where are we right now?

“Ross has worked hard with his team over the winter and there are some brilliant people there. I have met all of them in the last two weeks.

“That seems short, but you have an instant feeling if you get along with somebody or not, and my gut feeling is positive.

“We will see where we are in a couple of weeks - actually Saturday March 16 at 5.00pm in Melbourne (for the start of qualifying)!

“By then I will develop a better picture of the structure of the team and see where input is needed.”

In taking a 30 per cent stake in Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd, Wolff’s own money is on the line and therefore success is everything.

Wolff admits a top-four finish in the constructors’ championship would represent a good year, and he added: “As they (Mercedes) know I have put my neck on the line they know I have no room for failure.

“Not only have I taken a personal risk by leaving Williams - where I enjoyed working - but there is also a financial and economic side to it.

“There is a huge amount of trust on both sides and I am very happy having joined.”