Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff describes Brexit as “the mother of all messes” and says the situation is of major concern for the Formula 1 industry, given the location of so many of its teams in the United Kingdom.
The UK is set to leave the European Union on March 29, but at present the terms of its departure have yet to be agreed. With the deadline looming, there is a very real possibility that the UK will leave the EU with no deal, which could have a major impact on travel and customs as well as employment of foreign nationals. With seven of the 10 F1 teams headquartered in the UK — and Toro Rosso also having a base there — Wolff (pictured at center, above) says the situation is a serious one for the sport.
“Brexit is a major concern for us and should be a major concern for all of us that live in the UK and operate out of the UK,” Wolff said. “We’re Formula 1 teams that travel to tests and travel to races at least 21 times a year.
“We are moving in and out of the UK, our people move in and out of the UK, the way we are getting parts and services at the last moment into the UK and any major disruption with borders or taxes would damage the F1 industry in the UK.
“Our team is an international team — a German brand that has its F1 operations in the United Kingdom and I think we will have around 15-20 different nationalities in our team, many EU citizens. (There is) uncertainty at the moment as to whether the industry will be impacted by a no-deal Brexit or a Brexit. That is damaging to what is to me one of the outstanding industries in the UK. We have said before that it is the mother of all messes.”
Wolff says the motorsport industry as a whole has been exposed by the Brexit situation, and admits the UK could prove a less attractive location for F1 teams as a result.
“We are racing team operators and not politicians. As racing team operators and businessmen you will always think rational thinking is going to prevail and eventually protect an industry or the British economy. I think that we are seeing, at least what F1 feels like, is very exposed to the decisions that could be made on a political level and that is a risk for our people and for the industry.
“David (Richards, Motorsport UK chairman) and I discussed it over the Christmas and holiday period as to whether we should actually write a letter and get involved, and he felt, as the head of British motorsport, we need to do something because the industry is at risk.
“We have fantastic access to talent today in the UK and F1 has grown to what the Silicon Valley is in the US. At the moment there is a risk of whether the UK can stay as competitive a location as it is today. We would very much hope that it stays like this.”
Wolff admits Mercedes is working on contingency plans in the event of no deal with the EU being agreed, something he says would be of major benefit to those teams based outside of the UK.
“We are looking through the various scenarios with Mercedes Benz UK because it not only impacts Formula 1, it also affects the mother brand in terms of getting cars and parts in and out of the country. If a no-deal Brexit would happen like it is being discussed, I think it would have a major impact in terms of our operation in terms of going to the races and getting our car developed and ready. That is a nightmare scenario that I don’t want to envisage.
“We have certain contingencies in place, like having more stock and thinking about how we would get parts and people in and out of the country, but it would be a disruption and it would cause all the UK teams a lot of headache.
“Everybody at Ferrari and also Sauber (Alfa Romeo) in Switzerland will have a massive advantage over every UK-based team.”