When Toto Wolff, the 50-year-old boss of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, first watched the Netflix series about his sport, he thought it was terrible.
I’m watching this – episode one, episode two – and I hate it,” Wolff said of the show ‘Drive to Survive’.” Now we are the participants. We gradually evolved into this. I never wanted to have a camera in my face. It comes with my job and I need to talk about cars and the business side of Formula One. But suddenly you realize that it has become too big in every part of the world with new audiences, younger audiences. “
The Netflix series has attracted new motorsport fans in the US, which is shaping up to be Formula One’s next big market. This year there will be two races in the US, in Austin, Texas and Miami, with an attempt to win more Americans with high-speed cars and backstage drama.
Wolff, a former racer and private equity executive who is now the team’s chief executive, co-owner and principal, oversees one of the most successful racing teams ever, winning winning eight Builders’ titles in a row since its initial investment in 2013. Its superstar racer and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who has just been knighted by the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle , has won more races than anyone in the sport’s history.
The 2022 season won’t begin until later this month, but it’s already fraught with turmoil for Formula One and majority owner Liberty Media Corp.
During the season, F1 race director Michael Masi was sacked following an investigation into a controversial finish at last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi, and the sport overhauled its operating system. The Russian Grand Prix, scheduled for September, was permanently canceled after the Russian invasion Ukraine. After a week of deliberation, Haas’ F1 Team has decided to terminate the contract of Nikita Mazepin, the sport’s only Russian driver, and cut ties with title sponsor Uralkali, a distribution company. Russian fertilizer is partly owned by his father Dmitry.
We sat down with Wolff in New York to discuss his prospects for F1:
Where do you see momentum in the US market going?
That’s quite interesting because Formula One has always been, in our opinion, a big global sport in Europe, big in South America, big in Asia and the Middle East. In a way, we never reached or stimulated the American audience. My theory, in the past, was that it takes a long time for a sports federation to be established in a country.
Formula one is a niche sport. It’s a high-tech, high-income demographic, highly academic. I think it must be easier to reach audiences in big cities, like New York, but we’ve never really been there. Then Liberty took over, without moving the actual needle. And then Netflix arrived. Covid has arrived. People started watching and then suddenly we had the momentum we have in America right now that no one expected.
Do you find it heartbreaking to have to face those cameras all season behind the scenes?
It was scary when we let them in. You hate to see yourself in it. They create a twist to the story. They put together scenes that didn’t happen. I guess you would say as an insider, well, how is that different from it. But we are creating entertainment and that is a new aspect of entertainment.
Your fastest growing audience is between the ages of 15 and 35. Do you regularly chat internally to make sure you’re reaching them?
All demographics matter. In the past [Formula One Chairman Emeritus] Bernie Ecclestone would say, “I don’t care 15-35 years because they don’t buy Rolex from my sponsor.” But obviously that’s changed because with social, this is the demographic that’s driving the audience, that’s driving the reach, and they’re the decision makers of the future.
Previously you had private equity. Do you think that private equity and venture capital is overcrowded and a thing of the past?
I think it’s too crowded. I think the competition on everything is too big, the pricing is not in the right place. It reminds me of 1999. Apparently ’98, ’99, 2000 was a 2 and a half year period where things went crazy and there was no sustainable business model. But we’re seeing pricing today – especially in private transactions, not in the public market – as essentially pointless. However, people make money, investors make money, and more and more allocating assets into private equity. That’s not my thing. I love running companies, I love investing in companies I run or companies that I’m very attached to. This is why my office still does venture capital, private equity, and I get to see these businesses, but it’s really a diversification of investments without the involvement of the investors. I.
Funding dollars are flowing in from the crypto industry. Are all those new cryptocurrencies changing the sport?
Cryptocurrency is growing very strongly and generating a huge amount of profit. FTX, our partner, as an exchange has a business model that really works. It’s not some kind of inflated unicorn startup value, it’s an existing business. And so crypto has become one of the new sponsorship partners in all sports because of the visibility we create in the form of live sports.
What is your opinion on canceling the Grand Prix in Russia while still allowing Russian and Belarusian drivers to compete with a neutral license?
I’m sad for the Russian public that loves to watch Formula 1, and a population that might not care at all about geopolitics or whatever. But we as a society, we can’t look past that. Even a sports team. We’re commercially oriented and it’s a great place to race, but at a certain stage you have to say, “Come here and no more.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/motor-sport/im-sad-for-the-russian-public-that-enjoyed-watching-f1-mercedes-toto-wolff-on-russia-netflix-and-crypto-41419784.html ‘I’m sad for the Russian public that loves to watch F1′ – Mercedes’ Toto Wolff on Russia, Netflix and crypto