What are the secrets to running a record-breaking Formula 1 team?
Strong leadership, retaining your best people, providing a structure in which they can flourish, creating a working culture devoid of ego so people can innovate without fear of failure, building redundancy into the system so no department is unsustainably over-stretched.
The list goes on. And in a world so unstable as F1, this is not easy work – and takes time. Mercedes has become the best because it leaves no stone unturned in pursuit of perfection. Yes, vast budget is crucial, but as Toto Wolff explains (p50), success is about people first and foremost – getting the most out of them, but also helping them to get the most from themselves. Happy workers are hard workers, and rewarding good workers makes them happy, and want to work harder…
This approach to the human element of the organisation is similar to how the team tackles development of the car. We’re talking about ‘marginal gains’, putting hundreds of pieces together in the perfect order and optimising each of them. Wolff describes this as a “good analogy” of what he’s trying to achieve as team leader.
It was fascinating to spend time interviewing Toto about his work over the past seven years, as we dedicate this issue to celebrating the incredible recent achievements of Mercedes in F1, and revealing some of the secrets to that success.
We also spoke with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and went on a special tour of Mercedes’ Brixworth engine facility, which has been key to this amazing run. Of course, there are many hundreds of others who aren’t featured, but who were all vital to this landmark achievement. Without them, Mercedes would never realise these marginal gains so consistently and expertly, year after year.
There is an argument to say this Mercedes team is now the best Formula 1 has ever seen, having now surpassed Jean Todt/Ross Brawn/Rory Byrne/Michael Schumacher-era Ferrari by taking six consecutive title doubles. Andrew Benson weighs the debate on page 32.
Had Schumacher not broken his leg in 1999 it’s likely Mercedes would have needed another season to beat that mighty benchmark. Even with Ferrari resurgent in the second half of 2019, and Red Bull Honda on the rise, it would be brave to bet against Mercedes making it seven and seven in 2020.
As Stuart Codling’s story about the 2019 car that never raced shows, Mercedes keeps finding new ways to stay ahead of the game. The way the opposition are repeatedly pummelled is frustrating for fans who want to see epic fights, but it’s a marvel nonetheless. Between this mighty team and Hamilton’s incredible driving, we are witnessing history in the making.