Inside Line: Are F1 Mercedes bosses out of their depth?

Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday 22 September 2013.

For Mercedes the 2014 Formula 1 season has been an astonishing roller-coaster ride of success, with six wins out of six races and most of their rivals predicting that the Silver Arrows are capable of making it a clean sweep of 19 victories this season.  Of course time will tell…

The only bee in the bonnet for the squad has been the intense rivalry between childhood mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who would appear to be the only contenders for this year’s title – with Rosberg leading the standings despite Hamilton’s four wins in six starts. This is the main story of this season and the rivalry has captured most of the headlines, the rest is little more than a sideshow.

But to me the most fascinating element of the silver soap opera is the fact that the likes of Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda – the two man cabal that now runs the team – appear out of their depth with the situation they find themselves in.

The gaffes made by Wolff are predictable if not understandable, the guy has no experience running a Formula 1 race team of such a calibre (or any race team for that matter) hence the ill advised hiring of a sports psychologist to deal with his feuding drivers. Needless to say neither Nico or Lewis are being not ‘treated’ by the shrink and both drivers slagged off the effort as a bad idea.

Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 6 April 2014.

Then there was Wolff seeking an audience with Alain Prost to seek advice on how the great Frenchman handled the conflict with Ayrton Senna – anyone who has some inkling of the history of our sport knows that the two rivalries are totally different and Prost’s input hardly a road map for Wolff to follow. In all instances Prost turned his back and walked away, if I remember correctly.

Wolff’s actions are naive and those of a chap not knowing where to turn now that he suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself at the summit of a mountain. Does he plant the flag? Enjoy the view? Take a selfie? Pull out the manual? Ask advise? Or all of the above!

A couple of years ago Toto for most of us was an American rock band with hits in the seventies and eighties of which one included ‘Stranger In Town’ which is essentially what Wolff is in Formula 1 terms.

On the other hand, in this good cop bad cop scenario (no guessing who is who) you would expect seasoned veteran Lauda to know the right moves to make in a dominant situation of this nature. However dig a tad deeper and we realise that the legend that he became was due to his prowess as a canny, extremely brave and ultra-fast race driver who was thrice crowned F1 World Champion. However his Formula 1 management ‘career’ has hardly been stellar.

For instance: what was Lauda doing singing the praises of Hamilton when he had his run of four wins in a row? Declaring that the Briton was unbeatable. That would have irked Rosberg no end, especially when it later transpired that Hamilton broke an agreement not to use a boost button during the Spanish Grand Prix.

Mercedes AMG F1 W04 Launch, Jerez, Spain, Monday 4 February 2013

Thus huge credit to Nico for bouncing back with his defiant victory in Monaco.

Lauda boasts that he has the ear of both squabbling lads, and that he will sort the them out. Watch this space because things are going to get interesting as the Lewis versus Nico slug-fest is far from over, and only going to get more intense.

Despite the phenomenal dominance, Mercedes is lacking controlled, experienced and non-hysterical leadership – the kind of stuff Ross Brawn brought to work in the mornings, before he was nudged out of the team.

Former grand prix winner John Watson puts it most eloquently in his Daily Mail column: “If you think back to last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Rosberg wanted to catch and pass Hamilton, and Brawn emphatically said: No. Hold position. It is not just what you say, it is the way you say it and it is the person who says it.”

From where I sit, at the moment, Mercedes do not have the right person saying the right things at the right time. What they have is a brilliant car, exceptional backroom staff and two superb drivers, which when you think about it that should be enough this year despite the two chaps at the helm. (Inside Line by Paul Velasco)

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