Little snippets trickle out before a crescendo of ambition wrapped in German motorsport professionalism and a sporting set-up, unseen before in British sailing, hits us like a tidal wave to sweep and whoop us hopeful, hungry fans of Ineos Britannia into a euphoric state. None more significant than the news that Torgen Christian Wolff, or ‘Toto’ to the world, is to be unveiled on the podium to add an undeniable winning mentality and drive to succeed in the hardest waterborne game on the planet – the America’s Cup.
The fact that Wolff is engaged in Ineos Britannia is a massive, undeniable coup for the team. A year or so ago, if the media were to be believed, it was touch and go whether he would even be with the Mercedes Petronas F1 team.
A deal with Jim Ratcliffe and the board of Mercedes saw them divide the pie equally at an ownership level after Toto felt that perhaps he was becoming stale having secured yet another constructors’ and world drivers’ championship and took time to make a decision.
It was refreshing and endearing honesty. What he signed however was a new three year contract to oversee Lewis Hamilton’s march to almost unbeatable history-making and stay on the front-line whilst securing a long-term future with the Mercedes sporting franchise.
And the Cup is going to be the first major beneficiary of the renewed and re-invigorated Mercedes set-up as Wolff becomes involved – we’ll know in what capacity tomorrow – but what can a man who faces the brutal, nowhere-to-hide honesty of Formula 1 qualifying twenty-three times a year, all over the globe, bring to the Great Game?
Well the simple fact is that Toto Wolff is revered at Mercedes for his people-skills and management far more than for his technical ability or motor-racing pedigree. He’s almost becoming a Sir Alex Ferguson character in Formula 1 who was steered and mentored to the very top by the late Nikki Lauda and like Ferguson, is at ease with multi-millionaire drivers and their whims. Furthermore, there are engineers and race strategists that would literally die on a hill for Wolff. Mercedes beats to his drum and it’s a huge statement of intent to have him on the inside at Ineos Britannia.
Whilst the feeling in Auckland earlier this year was that Mercedes perhaps came a little late to the rescue of the design package and the critical engineering below decks and upstairs, you can be certain that with three, maybe even four years to the next Cup, the full works facility will be right on, and all over, the detail.
Clever solutions can be designed and engineered quickly at the Brackley HQ whilst the computational ability is second to none. Key too will be process management. The days of British design teams rushing off down pathways that lead to wonderful looking boats that are dynamite in certain conditions but howl at the moon in others, may well be long gone. Hoo-ray. Mercedes don’t put their name very often to failure.
And human performance will be taken to another level. It’s been coming for a long time but when you release Mercedes into the mix, the minute details will be crunched, analysed and presented back to every member of the team. Pity the flight controllers, have sympathy for the main trimmer, Lord help the grinding unit and sleep easy that you’re not on the wheel – there will literally be no hiding places on Ineos Britannia for the crew. They will earn their corn wholeheartedly in the next cycle. From day one.
The biographical details of Toto Wolff are revealing. His father sadly died whilst he was young and he was brought up with no silver spoon. He ‘scraped by’ at school by his own admission and motor-racing was something of a hobby but without the karting background that required mega-money that the family simply didn’t have, Wolff was scrabbling around in the basement levels of the sport. He was honest enough to realise that a stellar career behind the wheel wasn’t his destiny but his will to succeed was evident.
He fell into investing in his mid-twenties through a clever financial vehicle – Marchfifteen – where circumstance led to him being forced to acquire failing companies in order to not lose on his investments. It was the mid to late 1990’s when the internet was just catching fire and after a trip to the States he pivoted towards the technology side of motorsport before eventually launching a subsequent venture – Marchsixteen – that acquired a 49% stake in a company that ran the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Race Programme for Mercedes-Benz in 2004. He went on to acquire a stake in the Williams F1 Team – at one time the dominant force in Formula 1.
As Wolff became a name in F1, he branched into sports management with ex-F1 driver Mikka Hakkinen alongside a string of other motorsport investments culminating in the mega-deal that saw him take a third stake in the Mercedes F1 outfit in 2020. Not much gets past Toto Wolff these days and every driver on the grid and around the fringes knows his power – he can literally make or break a career in an instant.
So what will he make of the America’s Cup? Wolff is a genius at dealing with uncertainty whilst being completely unfazed at the posturing and positioning of wealthy and powerful individuals. He deals with pressure well and is hilariously prone to losing his Austrian temper at inefficiency or incompetence – his fist-banging when one of his drivers messes up is legendary. But he pulls it back brilliantly in interview. Expect the same in the Cup.
What Wolff will instil is brutal, sheer honesty mixed with evaluation and deep analysis. The Cup’s been this way before but when you look at the current field, they are the only game in town. It’s a powerful position and it’s a serious statement that will be made by Ineos Britannia.
Welcome to the America’s Cup Toto. Enjoy the ride.