An Open Letter to Toto Wolff
I hope you don’t mind me writing to you during this difficult time As a fan and supporter of your team of rather long standing, I would implore you not to shackle your drivers with team orders. Mercedes-Benz has a long and glorious racing heritage, with the operative term being Racing. Whether it being Rudi Uhlenhaut testing a W25 till the wheels literally fell off and then designing a series of better replacements, or your own predecessor as team boss, Alfred Neubauer, disregarding his government’s team order and waving his English driver onto victory at the 1938 German Grand Prix, Mercedes has always provided its pilots with the finest machinery possible and then let them race. In the 1930’s, the competition was Auto Union and the internal 4 or 5 Mercedes drivers in the lineup, in the 1950’s it was whoever was in the Silver Arrow next to Fangio, but the racers raced, even if we will never know if Fangio let Moss win the 1955 British Grand Prix. That legacy, that will to win, is in every fleck of silver paint on the cars whose preparation you oversee. It is that legacy that draws us fans in and, in turn, your sponsors who want us to buy their products. For the fans to engage, your team (and Formula 1 as a whole) needs to entertain and thrill, which it has been for the last few years. Unfortunately, it would seem that the desire to have a totally understandable ordered (safe) result is overriding that passion to race for that win. You said after the Austrian GP that your drivers had “disrespected” the 1500 people who prepared the cars for that race. I am sure, that while they would have loved a 1-2 finish, every man and woman involved in those car's preparation is a racer at heart and seeing Lewis hunt Nico down, following interesting decisions from the pit wall, thrilled them as much as us in front of the telly. Which brings me to your problem.
You inherited a driver pairing with which you have willingly continued with. In one car you have the very image of the modern Racing Driver. A media savvy, corporate friendly, family man who can peddle his car very fast indeed. He is smart and clinical in his approach, a proven winner. In the other car you have the last of a dying breed, a true Racer. A man who has grown up on the memory of a man who transcended the ability of his car one too many times. In him, we have the shadow of Senna, Hunt, Villeneuve and former Mercedes men Moss and Seaman. We don’t get them anymore or, if we do, they are a shadow of the shadow (see young Max). Both of your drivers are very fast in very different ways. Nico drives to the plan, uses what he has at his fingertips to great effect, but when the need to improvise arises, he struggles. Lewis’ forte is the freeform, it is Coltrane to Nico’s Buble. You put them on the same bit of track, there will be one winner. You mentioned that Nico had a brake-by-wire issue, coming off turn 1, when you saw, as we did, Nico go deep and lose out in the traction zone, knowing that his brakes were failing and Lewis was closing like a cheetah on a gazelle, it was only a matter of time, you cannot expect a red flag waved at bull to go unheeded. With Nico’s fading brakes and Lewis’ pace, you actively made a decision to allow them to race. Now, the requirement of your drivers to keep it clean and on the track was not adhered to, by one of your drivers. But that, in its purest, is why we tune in each race, why we buy the tickets and the t-shirts and the caps. That moment, at 200 mph, when two of the most talented human beings alive hang it out on the line and you see their character laid bare, that moment is racing at its purest. And it is a situation where a Racer will always have the edge over a racing driver.
You hold in your hands the key to the reason why we tune in and you, and your 1500 staff, do what you do, the thrill of motor racing. That puts the bums on seats, the people in the Mercedes-Benz showrooms and Petronas products in their engines. Seeing your cars, potentially, running line astern after a race to the first or second corner, will hamper that. Shackle your drivers now and the corporate reason you race is diminished. Let them do what they were born, and you pay them, to do, race. One will be bloody fast, the other will drive the wheels off to be faster. That is the dream alchemy for any team. This is the lineup you have selected. If you can only manage them by removing the reason we tune in, you have failed at your job. Your inspiring wife is championing women and girls to Dare To be Different, motivating a generation to dream to reach the formerly impossible heights. By potentially issuing your orders, you are undermining that dream and telling them, and by extension us, “Please, Dare! Until you get to the top that is, then stop and do as your told.” You have two people under your charge, they both dream of being titled “World Champion”, please Toto, let them dream, let them dare, let them race. Let's see which one claims that title, on their merit and your team's ingenuity, come the end of November, astride a Silver Arrow.
Best regards, Matt Bone.