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“Thoughts on Toto Wolff, Timo Glock and Money”

January 22, 2013

At a time when Formula One teams are readying their launch efforts for the season ahead, Williams, Marussia, McLaren and Mercedes have made significant changes to their personnel.

Since Sunday afternoon, German newspaper Bild have unveiled several early season moves that appear to have taken the Formula One fraternity by surprise.

From the point of view of this outsider, what has been most impressive is how the people and teams involved managed to keep these moves on the low down until just before the announce date.

First up was there revelation that Williams executive director Toto Wolff was on the move to Mercedes Motorsport (not Mercedes F1 as some mistakenly believe, although one of his positions will be executive director of the German marque).
A few hours later, they broke a story that Timo Glock was about to leave Marussia, which was confirmed yesterday, before revealing that McLaren Technical Director Paddy Lowe was on his way from McLaren to Mercedes, courtesy of Wolff. If that is the case, then McLaren are taking yet another significant hit prior to the 2013 season.
Bild, it would seem, are on a roll.

For quite obvious reasons, Wolff is no longer in his position at Williams, but has retained his 19% stake in the English team. At the same time, he has reportedly assumed significant shares in Mercedes F1.
Admittedly, I originally thought that Wolff’s move to the German company may have been the repositioning of HWA AG to take over management of the Mercedes’ F1 wing in the same way the DTM programme is run.
Alas that is not the case – for now.

The loss of Wolff comes just over a week after Williams won Business of the Year at the MIA Business Excellence Awards at the NEC in Birmingham. In addition to that, Williams Hybrid Power also announced last Thursday that they have partnered with French energy and transport multinational Alstom Transport.
The partnership sees the two companies work together to produce energy storage units for trams and endeavours to “…adapt and develop an energy storage solution that has the potential to reduce the greenhouse emissions of Alstom’s rolling stock. After several years of research into energy storage, Alstom has teamed up with Williams Hybrid Power to trial its composite MLC flywheel energy storage technology which offers potential fuel savings of 15% when installed in public transport applications.
“Originally developed for the 2009 Williams Formula One car, Williams Hybrid Power’s energy storage technology has since been introduced into applications such as London buses and the Le Mans winning Audi R18 e-tron quattro. The technology offers fuel savings and emissions reductions by harvesting the energy that is normally lost as heat when braking and turning it into additional power. It is ideally suited to trams because of their stop-start nature and high mass. Furthermore, the flywheel’s rotor is made of composite material which is inherently safe because there is no metallic structure travelling at very high speed”
{note 1}.

Amidst all the Wolff to Mercedes rambling, news began to filter through that Timo Glock’s career in Formula One was about to come to a sudden halt.
Three seasons with Marussia had seen the German racer become a bit of a fixture at the rear of the grid and although never a star, Glock is a well-respected driver who speciality appeared to be staying power in a race.

Three podiums in an F1 career that spanned six seasons may not sound emphatic by any stretch, but Timo regularly delivered where necessary; however results have been difficult to come by in his time at Manor Grand Prix / Virgin / Marussia Virgin / Marussia F1, with a solitary 12th place finish at Singapore being the highlight.
Following the withdrawal of Toyota from Formula One, Glock spoke with Renault, before being contacted by John Booth at Manor, leading to the German racer to join the then new team.

With Marussia effectively dropping Glock for “commercial reasons” (a roundabout way of saying they probably could no longer pay him), one wonders how much steam is left in that project. While there will always be pay-drivers in motorsport, one wonders if the top category of single seater racing is pricing itself out of top talent.

With less than two weeks before teams start unveiling their 2013 chargers, there are still plenty of seats available (two at Force India, one at Caterham, one at Marussia) and – Jules Bianchi aside – sadly the talk is not who best deserves those drives, but rather how much can one bring.
Of Bruno Senna, Luiz Razia, Vitaly Petrov, et al, they are still respectable talents; however their names are still being linked to seats for reasons other pure natural talent.
Recent seasons have seen Heikki Kovalainen, Jaime Alguersuari, Lucas di Grassi, Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi amongst others get lost in the shuffle, although they – like Glock – are respectable talents, but not world beaters.
Things are not going to get as bad as the 1994 season any time soon (Jean-Denis Deletraz, please don’t come back), but it is still a worrying trend.

As for Glock, there is little doubt that he will land on his feet. The 30-year-old is due a DTM test this week – apparently for BMW – and should all things go well, will be joining Ralf Schumacher on the grid later this season.
Former Formula One driver Robert Kubica will also be testing, albeit for Mercedes. Should both land drives, they will most likely spend a season or two toying with customer entries, before moving up to the premier teams – proving things go their way.

We shall see.

{note 1}
Williams Hybrid Power press release, January 17th 2012.

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