It’s no secret who Formula One’s most successful driver is. A quick look down the league tables shows German legend Michael Schumacher at the top with seven titles followed by a tie between Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and 1950s superstar Juan Manuel Fangio who have five apiece. However, the most bankable team boss is much harder to evaluate.
Do you measure the success of the team boss by the number of titles won by their drivers or the team? F1’s Byzantine scoring system makes it is possible for the driver to win the championship whilst the teams’ trophy goes to a different squad so the bosses could even be ranked on the total number of titles they have steered the team and driver to.
An alternative measurement could be the number of races the team boss has won though this favors more recent leaders as the number of events on the calendar has accelerated 31% over the past two decades alone. Likewise, the criteria for awarding points has changed repeatedly over the years so they aren’t a comparable measure either. A like-for-like comparison can only be based on results which haven’t changed since the the F1 championship was founded in 1950 right up to now.
Creating the short-list of the most-successful team bosses isn’t difficult. The ones who have led a team which won both the drivers’ and teams’ titles are indisputably at the top of their game. Ranking them on a level playing field requires calculating the percentage of races their teams won out of the total that they competed in. The greater the percentage, the more successful the team boss, whether it is 1950 or 2019. The results have never been revealed before and they show that F1’s current era may be its most historic.
As the table below shows, only two of the top ten were in the driving seat in the 1950s. The most influential was British businessman Colin Chapman who founded luxury auto marque Lotus and introduced sponsorship to F1 when he painted his cars in the red and gold colors of the Gold Leaf tobacco brand for the first time at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix.
Both Mario Andretti and Brazil’s Emerson Fittipaldi won F1 championships for Lotus propelling it to a total of 13 under Chapman. He scored a staggering 68 race victories but only lies seventh in the ranking as his career spanned 25 seasons. In contrast, his counterpart at Ferrari, Romolo Tavoni, only won 10 races but did so over a far shorter period so is ranked two places higher than Chapman.
Tavoni previously worked at the bank that gave Enzo Ferrari the loan to build a factory in Italy for his iconic auto brand. Ferrari insisted that Tavoni should join him and he started out as his assistant before eventually becoming boss of the F1 team. His four years there were turbulent ones, ending in 1961 with the death of its German driver Wolfgang von Trips at the Italian Grand Prix. After that Enzo Ferrari fired most of the team including Tavoni who briefly returned to helm rival Italian squad ATS but failed to win any races there.
Next up in chronological order are three former Ferrari bosses from the 1970s. The lowest-ranked is Italian Marco Piccinini who began his career at his family’s bank in Monte Carlo where Enzo Ferrari was a customer. Piccinini later set up a Formula Three team and although it failed to even win a race, Enzo personally hired him in 1978 to run Ferrari.
He replaced Roberto Nosetto who ran the team for one season in 1977 and won both the drivers’ and teams’ titles as well as four of the 17 races. It gave him a 23.5% success rate which puts him sixth on the list. Piccinini didn’t do so well. Although he steered Ferrari to both titles in 1979 it didn’t win the drivers’ championship again under Piccinini and only took the teams’ title two more times before he was ejected after Enzo Ferrari’s death in 1988.
Ferrari won just 15.2% of the races it took part in under Piccinini putting him ninth on the list. At the other end of the spectrum is Italian businessman Luca di Montezemolo as Ferrari won nine races when he was in charge between 1974 and 1975. It puts him in third place with 31% and bridges the gap between F1’s past and the present as di Montezemolo remained a crucial figure in Ferrari and F1 long after his stint as team boss. He went on to become president of Ferrari itself and only left in 2014 in advance of it listing on the New York Stock Exchange the following year.
Di Montezemolo didn’t have the most high-octane success at Ferrari. That accolade goes to Jean Todt, the current president of F1’s regulator, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). He was the boss of Ferrari during Schumacher’s record-breaking title run and over the 14 years that Todt was in charge the team won 13 championships and 98 races. It was 39.8% of the total Ferrari took part in which makes him F1’s second most-successful team boss.
Although his arch-rival Ron Dennis has 138 race wins to his name through running McLaren he was a team boss for twice as long as Todt so his success rate is lower. Likewise, another of Todt’s rivals is former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore who is at the bottom of the top ten. Britatore beat Todt to the title in four years but only won 46 races and was an F1 team boss for five years longer than the Frenchman.
Just two of the top ten are still involved with F1 today and both have had game-changing title runs. The first is Red Bull Racing’s leader Christian Horner who is the youngest boss to win the teams’ title in F1 history. When he joined the team in 2005 he was just 31 making him younger than its driver David Coulthard. It took Red Bull Racing five years to win its first title but when it got there it did it in style.
In 2010 Germany’s Sebastian Vettel became the youngest-ever driver to win the F1 championship when he took both titles for Red Bull Racing aged just 23. He repeated the feat for the next three years and was only stopped by an even more titanic title run.
In 2014 Austrian businessman Toto Wolff took over as the boss of Mercedes’ F1 team and has gone on to break almost every record in the book. He has steered Mercedes to both championships for the past five years running and won 79 of the 105 races it has competed in. It comfortably makes Wolff the most-successful team boss in F1 history but that’s just the start.
In 2015 Mercedes had a record 12 one-two finishes and the following year it reached another landmark when it won all but two of the 21 races. It is still making history and just yesterday secured its fifth consecutive one-two finish since the start of the season. It is more than any team has achieved in the 69-year history of F1 and it doesn’t just benefit Mercedes.
F1 teams drive a return for their sponsors through Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) which essentially measures how much the brands would have had to pay for a similar amount of on-screen exposure. According to its latest financial statements, in 2017 Mercedes’s F1 team generated $3.4 billion in AVE for its sponsors which include Malaysian oil giant Petronas, the Monster energy drink and audio equipment manufacturer Bose.
Mercedes owns 60% of the team with 10% in the hands of its non-executive chairman, former champion Niki Lauda, and 30% held by Wolff. It incentivizes him to deliver results and suits him to a tee as he is as much of an entrepreneur as he is a racer.
As we have reported when Wolff was a teenager he convinced his mother to pay for lessons at racing school in exchange for his next 10 birthday and Christmas presents. By the time he was 19 he had moved into single-seaters and went on to win endurance races including the prestigious Dubai 24 Hour. However, a severe accident at Germany’s Nürburgring put the brakes on his racing career and left him with concussion, some broken vertebrae and a loss of smelling and taste nerves.
It brought the chequered flag down on Wolff’s driving ambitions but gave him the time to rev up his business investments which ultimately led him to the top flight of racing.
Born in Vienna in 1972, Wolff attended the Lycée Francais. His father was a successful business owner whilst his mother worked as an anaesthetist for the City of Vienna. Driven by a passion for finance, Wolff enrolled in the Vienna University of Economics but came to realize that he would learn more in a job than in a classroom. This led to him dropping out to take an internship at an investment bank in Warsaw where he accelerated through the ranks.
Wolff then moved into sales management at Austrian steel company, Koloman Handler AG and after two years there, he set up his first business which primarily involved acting as an agent for the company in Poland. After building up an impressive roster of clients he decided to take a sabbatical in America to consider his next move.
Wolff found himself in San Francisco as the dotcom bubble was starting to grow and spotted an opportunity to capitalize on this in Austria. On returning to Vienna he identified small companies that were involved in early stage internet technology and bought into them. His foresight paid off and this kick-started his venture capital firm Marchfifteen which focused on technology, software and internet investments. Wolff founded it in 1998 with fellow Austrian Rene Berger who studied law at Vienna University and is now also a non-executive director of Mercedes’ F1 team.
Their timing was perfect as Marchfifteen was one of the first tech-focused VC firms in Europe and emerged as interest in the sector was surging. Marchfifteen grew to have offices in Vienna, Berlin, Zürich, Warsaw and Tel Aviv and made a string of high-profile deals. They included an investment in Austrian content delivery software provider UCP which was co- financed by T-Mobile and was eventually sold to American group Amdocs in 2006 at a value of $275 million.
Marchfifteen also organised the first round of financing, and played a major role in the stock exchange listing, in 2000 of Sysis, a provider of interactive simulations. Sysis subsequently merged with 3United, one of the earliest mobile startups in Austria, and was sold in 2006 for more than $50 million to network infrastructure giant VeriSign.
In 2004 Wolff and Berger founded Marchsixteen, which had a similar focus to its predecessor but mainly invested in more mature Austrian public companies in the internet and technology space. One exception was a 49% stake in German company HWA which produced Formula 3 engines and raced Mercedes cars in Germany’s DTM Touring Car Championship.
It brought Wolff into contact with DTM driver Susie Stoddart who married him in 2011 and has gone on to achieve worldwide acclaim for her efforts to encourage more women to participate in the auto racing industry as we have reported. Her husband became a director of HWA and steered it onto the Frankfurt stock exchange in 2007. He didn’t stop there.
In 2009 Wolff took his investment strategy to the next level with Nextmarch, which has a much broader remit than his previous vehicles. One of its first investments was the acquisition of a 16% stake in Williams, one of F1’s oldest teams. It gave Wolff a seat at the table as he became a non-executive director of the team and two years later Nextmarch advized it on an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
In turn, Wolff’s involvement with Williams put him on the radar of Mercedes. It was looking for a new boss to run its F1 team and the rest is history. Wolff has written a lot of it and, unlike many of the other team bosses on the success standings, he shows no signs of slowing down.
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