Formula 1: Chastening season for eight-time world champions Mercedes, says chief technical officer

Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff (second from left) and chief technical officer James Allison (second from right) in Singapore on Sept 30, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - After winning eight consecutive constructors' championships, Mercedes received a rude shock at the start of the 2022 Formula One season when they realised they were not fighting for wins or the top three even.

George Russell has finished in the top five of every race but seven-time drivers' world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has had mixed results, is still seeking his first win of the year.

Mercedes chief technical officer James Allison said: "It has been a chastening year for us in many ways.

"We were just talking about the eight consecutive championships and then suddenly at the beginning of this year... We were really struggling even to maintain a place in the midfield at the start of the year."

After dissecting this year's problems, the team are looking to avoid making the same mistakes while getting the car competitive and championship-ready again.

The culture of doing things as a team in Mercedes has also helped them cope during this difficult season, said Allison.

"From the top right down to the bottom end of the company, everybody is working for the same thing and putting their own interests (behind) the interests of the team.

"That experience is really powerful... (It's the) small things done by hundreds of people in the team to create a culture where you do feel properly part of something and it's the sort of thing that allows us to cope in a year where we're a little bit on the back foot and have to fight our way back the front.

"It allows us to cope with it in a way where we stay working productively together. And (that culture) is the reason why despite the difficulties of the moment, you can feel optimistic for the future."

James and Mercedes team principal and chief executive officer Toto Wolff were speaking at an event at The Ritz-Carlton organised by the German team and Marriott Bonvoy on Friday ahead of this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix. Rajeev Menon, Marriott International's president of Asia Pacific, was also on the panel.

The charismatic Wolff began the 38-minute session with a caveat: "We are pretending it's European time. So if our responses are not great, it's because we are half asleep."

Addressing around 40 business leaders, Wolff added cultures and values like integrity, loyalty and humility are like the immune system of the company.

He also highlighted the importance of creating an environment where it is safe to give constructive feedback to one's superiors while also checking yourself.

Mercedes team principal and chief executive officer Toto Wolff said cultures and values like integrity, loyalty and humility are like the immune system of the company. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

The Austrian said: "(James) tells me every two to three months that I've been a little bit of an idiot and I tell him too, more often.

"This openness is super important because if you are at the top of the food chain like James and I are, people generally refrain from criticising you.

"But for us, it's the most important thing to actually develop and perform better tomorrow."

With the environment of everyone working in a team, individuals feel accountable enough to take responsibility to find solutions, further leading to a no-blame culture.

Also key to Mercedes' success is encouraging employees to take care of themselves and having work-life balance.

For Wolff, he eats the same thing every day to maintain a semblance of consistency in his hectic schedule: pumpernickle and a cappucino for breakfast, grilled chicken breast and vegetables for lunch and dinner.

But he was down for a tiny bit of local food though, saying: "I had a spoonful of nasi goreng (fried rice) yesterday. Took quite some risks by doing that."

Wolff's diet might seem almost robotic but Allison reminded the crowd they are still human when speaking about the controversial ending of last season that robbed Hamilton of a record eighth world title.

He said: "I'm not sure I've internalised it yet. If I think about end of last season, or if i allow myself to think about it, I just get angry and I'll start ranting.

"Now we haven't done a good job in start of this new regulation set but I'm pretty confident we will ensure (we do) and it will be getting back to championship success.

"All of us being able to enjoy this shared goal we have, that will allow me (and the rest of us) to put the disappointment of last season properly behind us."

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