Toto Wolff, the 50-year-old Austrian managing director, team principal and co-owner of the Mercedes Formula 1 team, recently described by The New Yorker as someone who could walk past you at the airport, smelling good, wearing loafers and no socks,” spoke openly yesterday about his team’s terrible, bad year. Sitting with Oliver Steil, CEO of Germany-based TeamViewer, a popular maker of remote support software, Wolff also described how the struggling racing team relies, in part, on TeamViewer’s technology to give it an edge. in its attempt to regain its former glory.
The two were speaking at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, and Wolff received cheers as he appeared in front of the crowd, thanks in large part to “Drive to Survive,” the Netflix series that made him famous. (He finds it amusing, telling New York writer Sam Knight how a young woman threw herself out of her open car window to have her picture taken.)
Wolff also immediately recognized the obvious. “We’ve won the championship eight times in a row,” he said, “but that’s in the past.” Mercedes, he continued, “just got the physics wrong. . . and the concept of the car is in the wrong place,” he said, referring to his floor design, which he previously named as the root of the team’s lackluster year. (Every few years F1 teams – there are currently 10 in total – are forced by the body that oversees Grand Prix racing to redesign their cars.)
Indeed, it’s largely because it “takes a long time to roll out the things that are built into the car,” said Wolff, that his team turned to TeamViewer, a company last year. 17-year-old publicly traded company whose software can remotely access and connect any computer, tablet, laptop, mobile device or IoT terminal like an industrial machine – or a racing car – to enable control, management and remote monitoring of these devices.
It’s a perfect match, suggested Steil, who said TeamViewer is working closely with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team to make it more efficient, including running lab tests after hours and supporting the track team via remote engineers.
“We really try to follow a system like the one we have in Formula 1 as a team. We see the different parts, and we see what we can do differently if we connect in real time, in addition to what we do maybe trackside and in the back office. We really work through the different parts of the organization, on testing obviously, production maintenance, wind tunnel, all those sorts of applications where we’re trying to see where there can be better…”
Wolff stepped in separately to paint the overall picture. “We run 23 times around the world, around the globe [during the racing season]and our core team is only 90 engineers [with] 2,000 back to the factory,” of which 1,000 people focused on the chassis side and another 1,000 focused on the engine.
“Operation in the field, or we call it field surgery,” Wolff said, “isn’t always trivial because if you’re opening up a complicated engine or cooling system, you want to have the resource back home. , and TeamViewer is the only technology today that allows us to have the guy at home look through the same endoscope in the cylinder head, and then [help] the mechanic in the field.
As an added benefit and not without consequence, the two men said, the partnership reduces emissions because it means moving fewer people at a time when Mercedes is increasingly focusing on sustainability. In fact, Wolff said, the team has reduced emissions by nearly 90% in recent years. “It’s our responsibility to show our global audience of billions of viewers that if we can do it, anyone can do it,” he said.
Admittedly, the appearance was a big moment for TeamViewer, whose other clients range from telecommunications companies to fast-food franchise Wendy’s. For a company that promises great efficiency to its customers, there’s nothing like a revered Formula 1 team boss singing your praises.
Of course, what racing fans want to know is whether the technology will give Mercedes – who are yet to win a race in 2022 – enough of an advantage to beat team rivals Red Bull and Ferrari. .
While Wolff envisions “tomorrow,” as he said yesterday, it could take a while, even with the faster feedback loops TeamViewer’s technology provides the team. As he recently told outlet RacingNews365, Mercedes is still “eight to 10 months” behind Red Bull in terms of Formula 1 development after its frustrating 2022 season.
There is definitely a challenge,” he added, “but we are playing the long game, all of us. »
The intense rivalry between the two teams, while perfect for television, remains very real in the meantime. As the New Yorker article observes, of the sport’s 10 team managers, only Wolff and Christian Horner, who lead the Red Bull team, have ever won a world championship, and they really seem to hate each other.
Earlier this year, Knight reports, Horner called Wolff, who lives in Monaco, a tax exile who – he added disparagingly – runs his team from afar. Wolff, in conversation with Knight, in turn said of Horner, “He’s so simple.”