Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff talks about his beginnings in motorsport that included a stint as a ‘man with a golden face and cape’.
Althought Wolff is now one of the most successful people in the history of motorsport, his beggining were a little more humble. While he was an aspiring racer, he had to do various odd jobs to sustain his passion. One of those was an embarrassing stint as a ‘man with a golden face and cape’.
“I was an aspiring racing driver, and really tried to make money to race wherever I could,” the Austrian explained in an interview with The Race.
“So there was this electronics shop in Austria, it still exists, that has about 100 retail places. It was an hour’s drive from Vienna. And it was before Christmas. I went there alone.
“And I had to wear a golden cape, which went all the way to the floor. It wasn’t only a cape, it was like a ball gown with the cape. And there was, I think, some kind of stick.
“I was handing out vouchers for this electronic shop. I was standing right in the middle of the city centre, a kind of marketplace, handing out these vouchers, and it was so embarrassing with the costume. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be anybody that I would know.
But Wolff’s entrepreneurial spirit quickly took over, and he found a way to make the money, without the embarrassment.
“I decided for the second trip that I would take a friend of mine and he would wear the cape. And I would be standing next to him.
“I was paying him 50% of the fee I got. But I didn’t need to do this embarrassing thing.”
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Although Wolff loved motorsport from an early age, his desire to compete started during a trip to Nurburgring.
“We were on the grid, and it is something that really hit me. It was love at first sight. And then it was clear for me I’d like to become a racing driver.”
However, life ultimately took Wolff more toward business as he wanted to be responsible for his own destiny and not be dependent on others sponsoring him. The turn happened a sponsor that was sponsoring him and race driver Karl Wendlinger, who suffered catastrophic injuries and the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix, decided to pull out of the sport.
“My main sponsor said ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’ve sponsored Karl and you, you’re the only ones, and I’ve been weeks now in the hospital seeing Karl in a coma. I don’t want to do this anymore, because I wouldn’t want to see that happening to you’.
“And he said, ‘so by the end of the year we’ll just stop all kinds of motorsport sponsoring’.
“All these singular experiences, put together – the gap in driving, Walter’s feedback and my sponsor saying ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I remember we sat in a bar in Vienna at lunchtime, and I said to him, then let’s stop right now.”
“I wanted to earn my own money, not be dependent on anybody anymore. And then my business life started.”
The business life, of course, started him on a path that led to him becoming the team boss an co-owner of Mercedes’ Formula 1 team. Seven drivers’ and constructors’ championaships later, it seems to have been a good decision 😉