Toto Wolff Success is temporary, legacy is permanent

We interviewed Toto Wolff, CEO of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, to hear his thoughts on retirement, leaving a legacy, and his son's secret links to motorsport.

Toto, is it true you've retired from a few careers in your life?
Yes, a driving career that was very short, but ignited my passion for the sport. A private equity career that was completely detached from motor-racing for 10 years and then investments in various teams brought me back to a third career which merged two fields of business and sport.

Why did you decide to retire from your racing career so early?
It wasn’t my decision to quit motor-racing at the age of 22. I had run out of money, my sponsor had pulled out of the sport after Karl Wendlinger's accident in Monte Carlo. At the time I was also very conscious that I didn’t have the right background to make it. I lacked the go-karting background as a kid, I lacked the financing and the connections and I thought that the business world would be the better career path at that age.

So you had realized when it was time to step down?
Yes, I woke up one day and thought, ‘I don’t like what I do’. It was always clear to me when I needed to change.

We hear a lot about footballers being encouraged to plan for retirement. Is that something that you encourage drivers to consider?
It's a contradiction. The moment you start thinking about retirement, is probably the moment you should quit elite sport, because it means your mind is somewhere else.  Let’s face it, if you’re unlucky you can live to 100, so if you retire as a professional sportsman at the age of 35 you still have two thirds of your life to go.

Unlucky? 
Yes, unlucky, who wants to get that old?

Toto, you said Nico Rosberg was very brave by retiring early. What did you mean?
Many of us can feel we are trapped on a hamster wheel, seeking financial reward, happiness and recognition. For Nico to follow his instinct and jump off that wheel leaving all that recognition behind him, is an uncommon thing to do.

Do you feel it will be normal to have multiple careers in tomorrow's world?
Yes, the way we live changes and it’s highly probable that we’ll be given the opportunity to have various careers, because the world is moving at such a pace. What we do today might be obsolete in ten years and new areas will pop up.

Is there something about your career that you would like to pass on?
I have seen immense pressure within my environment on young sons, or young daughters, being pushed into a career of their parents or a legacy situation where companies existed and it was obviously clear that they needed to pursue this trajectory. I think it’s wrong. My career is my career, my passion is my passion, and ultimately it is about finding happiness in what we do day in and day out and whatever the next generation’s trajectory is and the objectives – that, you need to discover for yourself.

So whatever you choose to be your legacy might not be what you want anyway?
My son, Benedict, is 16 years old and wants to be a doctor, but last year I found out that, to my complete surprise, he was the communications manager for a Formula One schools team that races 30cm long cars with gas jets and that his team had qualified for the World Finals in Austin Texas.

He had decided not to tell me about it, because it was nothing to do with me. Last year, his team qualified again for the World Championship finals, and I was sitting in an airplane and I’m looking through the largest Austrian newspaper, when I saw a story about my son and his little Formula One school team.

I found myself having this irrational parent problem, wondering whether I wanted my son to continue with his interest in becoming a doctor or not. The answer is probably that he needs to figure it out for himself first and we shouldn't interfere in our kids’ careers. 

How important is success to you?
It is interesting, because in today’s world, yesterday’s success is not worth anything. It is gone and you don’t have it anymore, so you need to find new relevance, new recognition. This is how our social media generation works: the scroll moves on, the scroll never ends.

You mean its ever-changing nature?
Exactly, I find social media is like an addiction. There are addictions to drugs, to alcohol, to sugar, and to Instagram. Thousands of highly intelligent minds have created something that makes it highly attractive to look at. One moment you are looking at a woman who has an editing app to make herself more attractive, then you’re watching Max Verstappen cycling.  But I am not an addictive person and have deleted all the social media accounts from my phone so that I wouldn’t be looking at social media and promising myself 'Only ten more scrolls.’ Instead I looked at the sunset for 20 minutes… of course, I didn’t just do that. I thought about Formula One and I wrote things down!

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Biography

After a short racing career in the Austrian Formula Ford, Torger Christian ‘Toto’ Wolff found a new outlet for his talent – investment. He founded his own investment company, Marchfifteen, in 1998, followed by Marchsixteen in 2004. In 2002, Toto started a new venture, co-owning a racing driver management company alongside two-time Formula 1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen. After purchasing a 30 per cent stake of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd. in January 2013, Toto became managing partner. Later that year, he was announced Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport. He went on to assume full responsibility for the entire Mercedes-Benz motorsport program – from Formula 1 to DTM, sports cars and the Formula 3 engine program. Under his leadership, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport has so far clinched a quadruple of Formula 1 World Championships.


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