As the driving force behind Formula One's most successful team, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has reached the summit of success alongside star driver Lewis Hamilton.
Embarking on a new season, Wolff also wants to throw his weight behind furthering discussions on mental health to help people suffering in sport and beyond.
"What I want to do is encourage people to seek help and not see it as a stigma, of being a dysfunctionality,” Wolff said Saturday during a news conference at the Bahrain Grand Prix. “I am always someone that has been open with his close environment. (But) it's not like the flavor of the month to talk in terms of your own sufferings with mental health.”
He says people in highly successful positions are unfairly portrayed as being above the difficulties affecting others.
“People who are perceived as having it all, the Formula One lifestyle, all smiling and winning championships,” Wolff said. “(But) there has been a big community around professional sports people that have come out to show us as business people and entrepreneurs, and (as) no different to anyone else."
The superstar driver Hamilton has won six of his seven world titles with Wolff and Mercedes has won eight straight constructors’ titles.
Trophies don’t protect your feelings.
“High profile people who seem to have everything but are struggling, I think we have an obligation to say we’re getting help and it’s ok to get help,” Wolff said earlier this week in an interview with The Times newspaper. ”I think I’ve had more than 500 hours (of therapy). I have suffered mentally and I still do. Getting help is a way of overcoming my problems and it has helped me to access untapped potential."
Wolff's openness on mental health has found sympathizers within the ruthless world of F1, where bitter rivalries often spill over into personal feuds.
Things got extremely tense last year between Wolff and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, whose star driver Max Verstappen beat Hamilton to the title on the last lap of the season in the most dramatic conclusion in F1 history.
Horner praised Wolff for speaking up.
“All credit to Toto for having the courage to talk about his issues with mental health. It is something there is much more of a spotlight on these days,” Horner said Saturday. “I’m fortunate that I haven’t had issues personally, but I’ve had friends that I know that have suffered as a result of mental health issues. I think it’s very good to highlight it and to be able to talk out about it is a positive thing.”
Guenther Steiner, who runs the Haas F1 team, also agreed that Wolff did the right thing — and hopes that his words help others seek help.
“What Toto did was very courageous but I think it was the right thing, that people who have mental health issues come out with it," Steiner said. “Mental health is sometimes treated like something you shouldn’t have, classified as (something) else which is wrong with your system. People need to be open about it and by Toto coming out, hopefully people understand it.”
But AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost claimed that physical wellbeing alone is enough to offset any mental turmoil.
“You must look that you generally live a healthy way of life, which means careful nutrition: no sugar, less pasta, potatoes, all this kind of stuff. Eat vegetables and so on. Then make sport and rest," Tost said. "This is what we tell our people, that these are the most important pillars for your health. If you are physically in a good shape then your mental (health) is also OK and you don’t have any problems.”
Many athletes — in truly outstanding physical shape — have said otherwise.
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