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INSIGHT: The Man Behind the Wolff

Toto talks childhood memories, his racing career and what the future holds...

Before the summer break, Sky Sports F1's Simon Lazenby sat down with Toto to discover his journey to F1.

- SL: Born in Vienna 46 years ago to Polish and Austrian parents, you speak six languages, you now run a very successful motorsport team, how did you get from A to B? Where did it all start for you?

Toto Wolff: "Well, all the parents that want their kids to be inspired should switch off now. Because, there was not a lot of inspiring stuff around my early childhood. I was born in Vienna, as you said, and was lucky enough to go to the French school.

"This is where I learned an additional language. It was a tough upbringing; my father was very ill when he was young, and he died when I was a young teenager. There wasn't a lot of financial means and if you grow up in a city where you can see that in front of you, but you haven't got it yourself, it is difficult.

"Therefore, I wouldn't say it wasn't the best childhood and in school it wasn't great either. I just managed to get through every year by the tiniest of margins.

"To the great surprise of myself, I made the A Levels when I was 18 and decided to be a racing driver and study Economics at Vienna University.

"The race driving was so-so; the studies were even worse and that is why I decided then to start to work for a company and earn my own money."

- SL: What came first? Your love of racing, for example, when did that start?

TW: "That was a sheer coincidence because I was with some friends, we were visiting Amsterdam, don't ask why, and we were driving back and passing the Nurburgring.

"One of my dear friends was one of the frontrunners in the German Formula 3 Championship back in the time and I was fascinated by the environment, loved cars and drivers and decided I wanted to give it a go.

"I found out about everything and decided to buy myself a SEAT Ibiza, a tiny little SEAT car. I could make it with my pocket money and earning a little bit extra.

"I could just make the monthly leasing rates and I started to race the car. Sold my road car, raced the car and drive it on the road. This is how my racing started."

- SL: Were you any good?

TW: "I came to the first race and thought it was the SEAT Ibiza Cup, 30 participants, and I said, 'well I am going to come there and blow you all away, that is clear'.

"First qualifying I remember I was 18th and I was told it was clear I am 18th because the engine needs 1,000km to properly function and mine was brand new.

"So, I took the car, it was actually Spielberg, the Red Bull Ring, took the SEAT, drove all night 1,000km, drove back and went into qualifying, finished 18th again.

"So, I realised there is more to it than what I thought was good. Then I did a proper racing school, went into Formula Fords and then there was the moment where it started to get better."

- SL: You lived, for a while, overlooking the track in Spielberg? Working as an instructor and living hand to mouth?

TW: "Yeah, hand to mouth because I had no financial support from home. I tried to make the Uni, so-so and I got the offer from the best Formula Ford team back in the day to work as an instructor on the old Spielberg.

"There was a farmhouse, I paid a Euro or two for Bed & Breakfast. The great thing was that being an instructor was not only teaching the kids how to drive around, but also to shake the cars down in the morning and drive them in the evening.

"That gave me so much mileage and so much experience that I thought it would help me for my racing."

- SL: I read that the moment you twigged you perhaps didn't have what it took to get to the top level, you were following Alex Wurz. You said you can't do what he can do. Was it a sort of hair-trigger moment where you thought you should try something else?

TW: "Yes, it was bizarre because it was exactly that moment. He won't know probably. There was a very fast corner on the old Österreichring that was called Bosch Kurve, downwards.

"How you drove those Formula Ford cars was very much sliding these cars over all four wheels. The car control he had, I didn't.

"I lacked the go-karting, the possibilities and the testing, because there was not enough funds. This was the moment where I thought 'I am not going to make it to the top in that sport'."

- SL: You describe yourself as an entrepreneur, you got into investing which then led to getting into F1. But, when did you realise you were good at making money?

TW: "Well, I haven't realised at all because I am lucky enough to have combined in my current job the passion for motorsport and finance.

"Again, finance was a coincidence because I got to set up a little company and one of our main customers was going into bankruptcy. The only way of saving our outstanding debt was actually acquiring the company.

"So, it's the first time I got into emergency acquisitions because of a necessity to save ourselves. I was pretty young, I was 25 or 26, and this is how I started to have an interest.

"Back in the mid-to-late 90s, the internet came out and I was in the US for a month or two, and it caught my interest, Netscape, America Online, and I went back to Europe and started to invest tiny little money or shares for consultancy into these technical companies. And some of them became pretty well."

- SL: I had a brief spell in KFC, I then worked for a friend of my dad's in a pet factory rigging together pooper-scoopers for pets. That was probably my worst job, what was yours along the way?

TW: "The worst one was when I tried to make it as a racing driver, pre-Christmas in the busiest zone of an Austrian city, I had to wear a golden cape, I painted my face gold and I had to give away leaflets for the local electronics shops.

"It was so embarrassing because people recognised me. I remember that was really bad, but I pushed through, I really needed the money."

- SL: Your second wife Susie, I understand you went on your first date hear at Hockenheim, you old romantic. Is that true?

TW: "Yeah, that was actually the first date, it wasn't romantic at all. Because we stayed in a little hotel there, it is not the fanciest hotels, it is a three-star hotel.

"She wouldn't be happy if I would go into the detail there, but it was our first evening together, so that's why coming back to Hockenheim has some romantic spin to it."

- SL: She's doing so well for herself, very ambitious, successful, independent in her own right, running a fantastic campaign in Dare to be Different and now heading up her own Formula E team. Has she been taking some lessons from you, in how to run a team?

TW: "When you see her, you wouldn't recognise the big heart behind this petit blonde, but she made it in motor racing eventually into a Formula One team as a test driver through many difficult years in DTM with a b-spec car and in her early years in Formula Renault against Lewis Hamilton and Paul di Resta.

"If as a girl, you are one out of 100 able to make it through the ranks, it shows you have stamina and power.

"She was always pretty clear that after having had the baby, she wanted to do something entrepreneurial with a long-term plan. Then, the opportunity with Formula E happened and she's doing that pretty well.

"She's been listening to me the last five years, but I don't want to patronise her in any way because she doesn't need it. She has a good heart, good values and a good strategy."

- SL: King and Queen of Mercedes Motorsport really, Mercedes coming into Formula E in 2019 or 2020. You could be running F1, she could be running Formula E?

TW: "That's a danger zone, speaking about King and Queen and the success makes other people sick and we don't want to create any of these feelings. We are working very hard. Motor racing is our niche and our passion.

"She is trying to make her own way, Venturi is an independent team, it has nothing to do with Mercedes. If she would've wanted into Mercedes, it would've given it not the right picture, that's why she said you do your own thing at Mercedes and I'll do my own thing.

"We both want to be successful in our own right, but the big advantage is we can talk about it 24/7. We enjoy talking about it at breakfast and at dinner time. It's just our sport."

- SL: What's the best part of your job?

TW: "The best part is to be able to judge whether you have done a good enough job or not.

"If you have been beaten, if your lap time is too slow and you haven't won the race or haven't won a Championship, you were not good enough. It's that brutal honesty of the lap time."

- SL: Is this the toughest period that you have faced in your time in charge?

TW: "I've had some tough periods but this one is particularly difficult because we have won four years in a row and we were successful.

"People like to see the underdog win and the challenger, I see those feelings within me in other sports. You need variability.

"So, this is one of the challenges we are facing. How can we still stay the nice people, which I hope we have, we are, with the right values but on the other side Ferrari and Red Bull are doing a very good job and coming up.

"We just need to motivate and energise ourselves every single day to stay on top."

- SL: You've said power doesn't interest you, but yet you are in a very powerful position. Would you say you are the most powerful man in F1 right now?

TW: "No, the power is not interesting at all. I would like to perform well in my role, meet my own expectations, that is most important, meet the expectations of Mercedes, because at the end of the day it is their brand that we represent, and also do it with the right values.

"Then, maybe such thing as power happens but it is not something that I think is important."

- SL: Finally, what does the future hold? You've come this far, running the most successful team of the hybrid era, what do you see yourself doing in five or 10 years' time?

TW: "I haven't decided yet. I will take the decision next year. My main objective this year is still to compete for the Championship and do the best we can, and not distract myself with thoughts thereafter.

"But it's all in the open, whether I'd like to stay in Formula One in whatsoever role or go back to my investment business, or just travel the world for six months and look at the nice places, and not wake up everyday with the stress of needing to perform in a race. I don't know."