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The man behind the remarkable achievements of a team with no signs of slowing down

Mercedes

Toto Wolff is more or less on time for our interview, which is a bit of a novelty for the boss of the Mercedes Formula 1 team.

Such are the demands on the time of the 47-year-old Austrian, as head of Mercedes’ motorsport programme, that his lateness for appointments has become a bit of a running joke between Wolff and his closest advisers.

But it’s a joke that misrepresents the reality of the expertise with which Wolff runs his finely honed organisation, which is poised to become the most successful team in the history of F1.

After winning eight races in a row at the start of this season, Mercedes are firmly on course for a sixth consecutive double of drivers’ and constructors’ championships, which would break the record of five set by Ferrari in the era of Michael Schumacher.

Typically, successful F1 teams start to fracture sooner or later – through stasis, or ambition, or complacency, or a combination of those and many other factors.

Somehow, Wolff has prevented that happening at Mercedes. It’s little wonder Lewis Hamilton calls him “the best person I know for managing a business”.

Wolff ascribes the team’s success to “permanent scepticism” and says the “relentless pursuit of excellence” seen in Hamilton as he marches towards his own sixth title this season is “something that is very ingrained in the team”.

“Lewis has played a big part in that,” says Wolff. “He never stops pushing for performance. He is very self-critical. He is the only driver I have ever seen coming into a debrief and saying: ‘Don’t look at my data because my driving was not good enough.’ And that from a five-time world champion.

“This relentless pursuit of being a better you tomorrow than you have been today, and brutal honesty with yourself, transparency within the organisation to overcome mistakes and shortcomings, is something that is a very big part of Lewis’ character – and the mindset of the team.”

BBC Sport sat down with Wolff to discuss leadership and success, how Mercedes have avoided the pitfalls that usually befall successful F1 teams – and intend to carry on doing so for some years to come.

It is a story of open-mindedness and humility. It includes unexpected and unusual details – 20 engineers meditating together in a room, for example. And it reveals the reasons behind the remarkable achievements of a team who show no sign of slowing down.

Setting the right objectives

Since Mercedes started their winning run, with the advent of the turbo-hybrid engine formula in 2014, hints of weaknesses have been few and far between. And the desire to win is as strong five years on as it was when Mercedes were setting out to end Red Bull’s four-year domination at the start of this decade.

The secret, Wolff says, is framing targets that keep motivation high throughout the organisation.

The “right objectives keep you motivated and energised,” he says.

Although the target is the same every year – winning the world title – each season has offered a different angle which has allowed the team to “reinvent” themselves.

“Winning the first championship was a huge mountain we wanted to conquer,” Wolff says. “And then we wanted to prove we were able to do it a second time.”

After that was achieved, a major change of rules for 2017 – introducing wider, faster cars – created the ambition “to be the first team to win through a regulatory change”.

This year, that was the case again – but more important was the desire “to beat the all-time Ferrari record, which means six double championships in a row”.

Wolff sums it up: “You can see that the ultimate target of winning the championship always remained the same, but there was a little nuance to it that motivated us.

“You need to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and clear objectives, and that keeps you going.”

Twenty engineers sitting in a room chanting ‘om’

This article is from the BBC Sport website / bbc.co.uk - The man behind the remarkable achievements of a team with no signs of slowing down

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