F1 team principals: Who are they and what do they do?

The role of a team principal is a varied and important one, but who are the team principals and what do they do? Read on to find out...

F1 team principals: Who are they and what do they do?
Listen to this article

Want to become a Formula 1 team principal? Well, current evidence would suggest that if you’re white, male, somewhere between 50 and 70 and German is your home language, you’ll be set.

Okay, so perhaps it’s not the most diverse group of individuals heading up the 10 teams that currently make up the Formula 1 field. But at least there are no fixed CV requirements for landing one of these coveted but challenging roles.

As you’ll find out in this article, it’s good to have an engineering background and a knowledge of how teams run – but former racers, skilled management types and hard-nosed businesspeople are also desirable. And it would appear that if you’re all of the above, you’ll go far in the team leadership game.
Let’s meet who have done exactly that – and take a closer look at what they do.

What is a team principal in F1?

In simple terms, the team principal is the boss of a Formula 1 team. In some languages – notably German, which six of the current set speak at home – ‘boss’ is effectively the word they use as job title. As such, the team principal’s position is clear enough. The buck usually stops with them as far as the Formula 1 team’s performance is concerned.

There was a time when team principals and owners/founders were often one and the same – think Colin Chapman (Lotus), Bruce McLaren or – most enduringly – Frank Williams. They might also have happened to design the car (Chapman), work on it in the pits (Williams) or drive and engineer it (McLaren).

Nowadays, team principals don’t get their hands dirty, much less drive. They’re typically hired employees. They may hold shares, but that’s it as far as it goes in terms of ownership.

The fact that modern team principals are hired reflects the reality that F1 teams no longer operate in isolation. In some cases, they’re part of a wider organisation with which they share skills, people, premises and history – Ferrari being the classic example here.

Red Bull Racing, on the other hand, is an example of a team owned by an entity from an entirely different world. Between these two extremes, there’s a range of ‘governance’ set-ups. But it suffices to say that F1 team principals all have bosses. Bosses who want a return in terms of results.

Frank Williams, Williams

Frank Williams, Williams

Photo by: David Hutson / Motorsport Images

What does an F1 team principal do?

The one thing every F1 team principal does is serve as the public face of the team. They give endless press interviews in which they speak on the team’s behalf, both away from the track and during race weekends.

They also represent the team’s interest in the political and sporting sense, for example in meetings with the governing body, race stewards and other teams. Though they’ll typically have specialists at their side depending on the occasion, this is where diplomatic and business skills come in handy.

Another essential role is that of people management – shaping a (hopefully) winning environment and structure. Sure, you can be an engineer at your core, but a team principal can’t be the type of person who will hide at the back of the garage and pore over numbers. As is the case for the head of any organisation, they’ll need to be able to step back, see the bigger picture and make decisions accordingly.

One of those decisions – and probably the most important – is what they should rather delegate than try to do themselves. A Formula 1 team is made up of highly specialised people such as race engineers, strategists and mechanics. Nearly all of them know more about their specialist area than the boss does. So it’s key for the team principal to ensure the right people are hired, given the right structure to work in, and then trusted.

That said, some team principals are more hands-on than others. This is where styles will differ according to their management philosophy and skill sets. Some may prefer to take a supervisory role in all things. But for others, if there are areas where they can offer specific expertise, then they may do exactly that!

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Mercedes – Toto Wolff

• Team: Mercedes
• Time with the team: Since 2013
• Wins as team principal: 114

This Austrian former racing driver, who turned 50 in 2022, is not only team principal but also a substantial shareholder. He’s responsible for all Mercedes-Benz motorsport activities, much in the manner of his German predecessor Norbert Haug.

Wolff was a handy racer, but switched his focus to sportscar racing after a stint in Formula Ford in Austria and Germany in the early 90s. He gathered a few successes without setting the world alight, and his motorsport legacy will undoubtedly be his more recent work off the track. He was a director with Williams before switching to Mercedes, where he and his countryman Niki Lauda – who passed away in 2019 – became synonymous with the successes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and more.

Wolff is married to Scottish former race driver Susie (previously Stoddart), who is also CEO of the Venturi Racing Formula E team.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull – Christian Horner

• Team: Red Bull Racing
• Time with the team: Since 2005
• Wins as team principal: 84

It’s a little ironic that while two of the 10 F1 team principals are Austrian and six are German-speakers, the job of running Austria’s team belongs to the only Englishman on the scene.

Like Wolff, Christian Horner is a former driver. He went a lot further in terms of single-seater racing, however, reaching the lofty heights of FIA Formula 3000 in the late 1990s. At that point, he founded the Arden team, which makes Horner one of the last owner-drivers to have competed at a high level in single-seaters. By the end of 1998, however, he had decided that his strength lay behind the pitwall rather than behind the wheel.

Seven years after quitting driving at the age of 25, Horner graduated from F3000, in which Arden had by then amassed multiple titles. Red Bull, who had bought the Jaguar F1 squad, appointed Horner boss of its eponymous operation for its debut in 2005.

It proved a perfect match, with the Brit overseeing the team’s gradual rise to frontrunner status, and then a glut of titles for Sebastian Vettel. Unmoved from his pitwall perch to this day, Horner is also famous for his ‘restless leg’ during tense races – and being married to Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Photo by: Ferrari

Ferrari – Mattia Binotto

• Team: Ferrari
• Time with the team: Since 1995
• Wins as team principal: 7

With a name like Mattia Binotto, you might be forgiven for assuming the Ferrari team principal is Italian. But he’s actually Swiss: he was born in Lausanne and studied Mechanical Engineering there. That tells you Binotto is no paper-pushing bureaucrat: he’s a nuts-and-bolts technical man at his core.

He’s also a textbook example of how you can work your way up from the bottom in a big organisation. He joined the Formula 1 test team in 1995 as a Test Engine Engineer. From there, he stepped up into a similar role in the race team and, after a few stops along the way, became Chief Technical Officer in the summer of 2016.

Finally, in 2019, Binotto was promoted to team principal. He dovetails this Formula 1 role with duties as managing director of the broader motorsport division.

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal, Alpine F1

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

Alpine – Otmar Szafnauer

• Team: Alpine
• Time with the team: Since 2022
• Wins as team principal: 0

Szafnauer got to where he is by means of a sidewards step in the Formula 1 midfield. Previously with Aston Martin, the Romanian-born American departed the team in January 2022 before resurfacing at Alpine the following month. Upon his appointment, he pledged that Alpine would fight for the world championship within 100 races - that’s before the end of 2026, in other words.

Though primarily a businessman by trade and training, Szafnauer can point to a little racing on his long CV, thanks to a spot of Formula Ford in the early 1990s. But it was off the track that he began to make his name, leaving a long career at Ford Motor Company to become Operations Director at new Formula 1 team British American Racing in 1998.

He then did a stint with Honda before joining Force India in 2009 and rising to become team principal there – by which time it had become Aston Martin.

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, McLaren

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, McLaren

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

McLaren – Andreas Seidl

• Team: McLaren
• Time with the team: Since 2019
• Wins as team principal: 1

Andreas Seidl came to McLaren from some similarly heavy-hitting motorsport brands.

Before his appointment to the Woking team in 2019, he’d been team Principal for Porsche’s successful LMP1 sportscar programme. And the engineer from Passau came equipped with Formula 1 experience thanks to his role as Head of Track Operations at BMW Sauber from 2007-2009. This was part of over a decade spent in key motorsport roles for the Bavarian giant.

Seidl is only the fifth team principal at McLaren, following founder Bruce McLaren, Teddy Mayer, Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh. There might have been at least another on the list, but Dennis abolished the position in 2014 in one of his last plays at the team, calling it ‘outdated’.

Only upon Seidl’s appointment did the job title make a comeback.

Franz Tost, Team Principal, Scuderia AlphaTauri at the AlphaTauri Faenza tour

Franz Tost, Team Principal, Scuderia AlphaTauri at the AlphaTauri Faenza tour

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

AlphaTauri – Franz Tost

• Team: Alpha Tauri
• Time with the team: Since 2005
• Wins as team principal: 2

Just like Christian Horner over at the ‘big sister’ team that is Red Bull Racing, Franz Tost has held his team principal role since 2005.

Another former racer who had decided to retreat into team operations, Tost was also appointed by Red Bull following its takeover of another team – in this case Minardi. It was, of course, dubbed Scuderia Toro Rosso at that time.

Born in 1956, Tost is the oldest team principal on the F1 grid at the time of writing. The Austrian grew up idolising local hero Jochen Rindt, and took the chance to race when it came along in his twenties. He competed in various Austrian junior categories for six years, winning the Formula Ford 1600 title in 1983. After quitting racing a couple of years later, he worked his way up in the world of team management.

His first Formula 1 role was with Williams, where he stayed for five years before Red Bull came calling.

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo – Frederic Vasseur

• Team: Alfa Romeo
• Time with the team: Since 2017
• Wins as team principal: 0

Frederic Vasseur came through the ranks as a team boss in much the same way a driver would. After studying engineering and aeronautics, the Frenchman founded his own team in 1996.

Running initially under the ASM banner, and later as ART, it gathered trophies for fun in the junior formulae. Among other successes, Vasseur oversaw Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 3 Euroseries and GP2 titles in the mid-2000s.

With a CV like that, it was perhaps inevitable that Formula 1 teams would come calling. Sure enough, Vasseur joined Renault as team principal in 2016. But despite the French connection, the relationship only lasted a year.

When Vasseur next surfaced in mid-2017, it was on the German-speaking side of Switzerland, where he took up a similar position with the Sauber team. Despite the team’s change of name to Alfa Romeo, he remains in the role.

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

Haas – Gunther Steiner

• Team: Haas
• Time with the team: Since 2014
• Wins as team principal: 0

Like Tost, Steiner is a German-speaking veteran hailing from the Alpine region. Though a decade or so younger, he too arrived in Formula 1 around the turn of the century. But the Italian – who also holds American citizenship – got there by way of rallying, where he started as a mechanic and worked his way up to manage the Ford World Rally Team in 2000 and 2001.

His move into F1 came as managing director at Jaguar, but he remained only for a couple of seasons. After a year off, and a stint with the Opel DTM team, he became Technical Operations Director at the new Red Bull Racing team – before moving to North Carolina to work on Red Bull’s motorsport operations in America. It was there that he made the contacts that ultimately led to him being appointed to build the Haas Formula 1 team from the ground up.

Though team principal has been his title from the very beginning of the project, Steiner is exception in that he can be regarded as its hands-on founder too. 

Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1

Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Aston Martin – Mike Krack

• Team: Aston Martin
• Time with the team: Since 2022
• Wins as team principal: 0

Krack is a no-nonsense technical man who quietly built up enough experience in multiple disciplines to attract the attention of headhunters looking for somebody to replace Otmar Szafnauer at Aston Martin earlier this year. He was already a top engineer at BMW Sauber when Sebastian Vettel began his Formula 1 career there in 2006-07, so accepting the post at Vettel’s current team represented something of a reunion for the pair.

During the intervening years, Krack had a stint in Formula 3, worked on the Porsche LMP1 project and then rose to oversee BMW’s entire motorsport portfolio from 2014 to 2021. Hailing from Luxembourg, it was Krack who tipped the scales in favour of German-speakers amongst the ten F1 team bosses.

And yes, his CV does have a fair amount of overlap with Seidl’s.

Jost Capito, CEO, Williams Racing, in the team principals Press Conference

Jost Capito, CEO, Williams Racing, in the team principals Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

Williams – Jost Capito

• Team: Williams
• Time with the team: Since 2020
• Wins as team principal: 0

Slotting in between Tost and Steiner as one of the elder statesmen of the F1 team principal corps, one of Capito’s greatest strengths is the network he brings from a lifetime in various motorsport disciplines.

His competition career, which lasted a few years, culminated in his crew winning the truck class of the Paris-Dakar in 1985 in a Mercedes-Benz. Later in the 1980s, he became involved in Porsche’s racing division, then switched to Sauber. After that came a long career in rallying, where he played a key role for first Ford and then Volkswagen, culminating in four straight World Rally Championship titles for VW from 2012-16. By then he was also in charge of VW’s entire motorsport programme.

Finally, in the autumn of 2016, Capito made it to the top of the motorsport world with what turned out to be a very brief gig with McLaren. After another stint at VW, he joined Williams as CEO in late 2020, following the team’s acquisition by Dorilton and the departure of Frank and Claire Williams from the leadership.

For 12 months, Simon Roberts was team principal under Capito, but the latter then added the role to his board duties in 2021.

Read Also:
shares
comments

Related video

Alpine: Ocon has what it takes to lead the F1 team in 2023
Previous article

Alpine: Ocon has what it takes to lead the F1 team in 2023

Next article

McLaren explains gaps between F1 qualifying and race pace

McLaren explains gaps between F1 qualifying and race pace
How its faltering first turbo car advanced a Williams-Honda glory era Prime

How its faltering first turbo car advanced a Williams-Honda glory era

Stuart Codling charts the development of the Williams FW09, the ugly duckling that heralded the start of the title-winning Williams-Honda partnership

Formula 1
Sep 25, 2022
The Moss-Ferrari farce that current F1 drivers are thankfully spared Prime

The Moss-Ferrari farce that current F1 drivers are thankfully spared

Recent moves within the driver market have reminded Maurce Hamilton of a time when contracts weren’t worth the paper they weren’t written on…

Formula 1
Sep 24, 2022
The seven factors powering Verstappen's 2022 F1 domination Prime

The seven factors powering Verstappen's 2022 F1 domination

After a tooth and nail and, at times, toxic Formula 1 world championship scrap last year, Max Verstappen's march to a second consecutive title has been the exact opposite. But has he really changed in 2022? Here's a dive into what factors have played a crucial role, both inside the Verstappen camp and elsewhere, in the Dutch driver's domination.

Formula 1
Sep 23, 2022
The time lag of ideas that offers intrigue over F1's future fight Prime

The time lag of ideas that offers intrigue over F1's future fight

The pecking order in 2022's Formula 1 season may look pretty static as the season draws to a close, but the unique nature of the cost cap means that preparation for next season takes precedence. New developments are being pushed back to 2023, which could mask the technical development war ongoing...

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2022
The surprise biggest indicator of Ferrari's 2022 F1 points downfall Prime

The surprise biggest indicator of Ferrari's 2022 F1 points downfall

Looking back to the early races of 2022 and Ferrari’s challenge to Red Bull and Max Verstappen was going better than many expected. But it has lost so much ground a surprise rival can even pip Charles Leclerc to runner-up in the standings if given the chance

Formula 1
Sep 20, 2022
The F1 podium-finisher that gave Jordan stability in a year of chaos Prime

The F1 podium-finisher that gave Jordan stability in a year of chaos

The Hart-powered Jordan 194 gave the team hope that the good times were just around the corner. Its 1994 steed wasn’t the start of a move up F1’s pecking order - even if the car did earn the Silverstone team a first pole position. But, as STUART CODLING explains, it did provide a platform for Jordan to become a manufacturer-supported squad.

Formula 1
Sep 18, 2022
BRM V16: How F1's greatest sound has returned to the track Prime

BRM V16: How F1's greatest sound has returned to the track

The first of three new BRM V16s is bringing the greatest-sounding engine to a new audience – and back to the race track - at the Goodwood Revival this weekend. Here is the story of the ambitious 1950 Formula 1 project's resurrection for historic competition

Formula 1
Sep 17, 2022
The juggling act that makes up an F1 team principal’s weekend Prime

The juggling act that makes up an F1 team principal’s weekend

Have you ever wondered what a Formula 1 team principal actually does at a grand prix? GP RACING followed Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack to open a window into the TP’s race weekend world…

Formula 1
Sep 16, 2022