His appearance in Formula E boils down to an undoubtedly dramatic and very public turnaround by Wolff, who was an early skeptic of the series.
He even said at the team presentation that he “does not believe Formula E could succeed”.
But even though Wolff was fully developed, he turned into James to lead Mercedes ’venture into the electric motor sport.
James avoids comparison to Wolff, but also aims to copy his boss.
“It’s great to work with someone like Toto,” James said. “We talk on several occasions during the racing weekend. His focus is Formula 1, but he is still very involved in the Formula E program.
“What I’m trying to do is the same as Toto, which is holistic. I’m passionate about the race and I make sure we’re always moving in the right direction. It works very well.
“He’ll leave it to us, but he offers great advice when it comes to drivers or analyzing what went wrong and what could have done better.”
Wolff v Wolff in Formula E
James laughs at the idea that he might be caught in the middle of a fight with Wolff against Wolff. “It’s certainly a unique position you’re in,” he said. “But it’s great to have Susie on board because she’s someone I can have a very open dialogue with.
“We know if we approach it properly and if we work together, we can develop both teams faster together. And it would be a dream if all four drivers fight for first places. Then it gets serious.”
Like Wolff, James ’passion for motorsport grew up in F1, first hooked at the age of five or six.
For him, the early moment that stood out spilled into the lap at Silverstone when Nigel Mansell won the British Grand Prix in 1991 and famously gave rival Ayrton Senna a return to the track after he ran out of fuel.
After studying mechanical engineering at university, James ’first job came to McLaren working on a Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren three and a half years before moving to Mercedes where he had worked for the past 15 years.
‘We are runners’
His roles were multiple: he was part of the team behind the introduction of KER in 2011 and helped bring Mercedes back to next season’s first win with Nico Rosberg. But he was also heavily involved in the development of the powertrain that led to the first world titles in 2014 and continued dominance.
“I am the fist of all trades, the master of nothing,” he said. “I’m an engineer by profession, but really bad. I had time in finance and marketing, in program management. It was a mixed bag.
“And I was lucky with that – it was really too good to give up, not just a return to motorsport which is my passion, but also the opportunity to start a business.”
Like any motorsport, the main goal is to win.
“The inside has enough understanding and empathy to have expectations checked in our New Year’s Eve in a complex sequence,” he said. “But from the outside we are a team with a three-point star, one was associated with great success in F1 and DTM before that.
“You need time for that, look at F1 for example. But we want to win the competition while we’re runners. The medium-term goal is to get into a champion clash, but we’re aware of how challenging that will be.
“Of all the things I’ve done, this is going to be very difficult for the top. We’re at the beginning of this journey and we’re making sure to bring results and build the business to make sure it’s ready for the future.”
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