F1

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff to miss Japanese Grand Prix

It is understood that Wolff’s decision to miss the race in Suzuka on April 7 was taken before the start of the new season.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake) (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will be absent from the next Formula One race in Japan, the PA news agency has learned.

It is understood that Wolff’s decision to miss the race in Suzuka on April 7 was taken before the start of the new season and is not connected to the team’s performance in Australia.

Wolff admitted after Sunday’s race at Melbourne’s Albert Park that it is “fair” to question his future as team principal following Mercedes’ troubling weekend.

Lewis Hamilton qualified only 11th and the worst start to his 18-season career was confirmed when his engine expired on lap 17, while team-mate George Russell was seventh when he crashed out.

Lewis Hamilton has endured a dire start to the season (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
Lewis Hamilton has endured a dire start to the season Lewis Hamilton has endured a dire start to the season (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake) (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP)

Wolff, who lives in Monaco, will be on the intercom remotely throughout the race weekend in Japan – with his duties at the circuit to be divided between senior members of the Brackley team.

The Austrian also missed last year’s Japanese GP and the ensuing round in Qatar, following knee surgery. On those occasions the team’s driver development director Jerome d’Ambrosio was handed the effective on-site team principal baton.

But it emerged earlier this month that D’Ambrosio is set to end his association with the team when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Wolff admitted in an interview with the PA news agency last year that he intends to scale back his on-track presence in the coming years.

The 52-year-old, who has been in charge of Mercedes since 2013, recently signed a new three-year deal to remain as chief executive and team principal of the F1 operation he co-owns with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ola Kallenius.

Mercedes won an unprecedented eight consecutive constructors’ titles between 2014 and 2021 but they have tasted just one victory from their last 48 outings.

Fresh from his harrowing accident in Melbourne, Russell is expected to be at the team’s HQ in Northamptonshire later this week as Mercedes search for solutions to their underwhelming start to the season.

Russell failed to make it to the end of Sunday’s race after hitting the wall on the penultimate lap in his pursuit of Fernando Alonso.

The double world champion was adjudged to have driven dangerously by the stewards and was demoted from sixth to eighth following a post-race 20-second penalty.

However, the 42-year-old protested his innocence in a message posted on social media.

Alonso wrote: “A bit surprised by a penalty at the end of the race regarding how we should approach the corners or how we should drive the race cars. At no point do we want to do anything wrong at these speeds.

“I believe that without gravel on that corner, on any other corner in the world we will never be even investigated.

“In F1, with over 20 years of experience, changing racing lines, sacrificing entry speed to have good exits from corners is part of the art of motorsport.

“We never drive at 100 per cent every race lap and every corner, we save fuel, tyres, brakes, so being responsible for not making every lap the same is a bit surprising. We have to accept it and think about Japan, to have more pace and fight for positions further up the field.”