D Outside, thick clouds hang over the port of Monaco, in the Mercedes motorhome only dimmed light flickers. One camera team presses against the other, the journalists are spread all the way to the back. Mercedes motorsport director Toto Wolff appears seven minutes late. The press conference was actually scheduled for the previous day, but Wolff was not in the mood to speak after the sudden death of Niki Lauda on Monday evening. On Thursday (23.05.2019) he is now sitting in front of the media representatives, his voice calm, and now and then a smile flits through his face when he talks about memories of Niki Lauda.
Lauda's heart and soul of Formula 1
For Wolff, Lauda was not only the Formula 1 icon or his sparring partner in the management of the Mercedes team, but a real friend, as he says. “I got a text message from his wife on Monday evening. I was in Paris, ”says Wolff. “And since then I am no longer myself. I felt like a zombie and I had tears in my eyes every half hour. It feels surreal to be in the paddock knowing that Niki is no longer alive. He was the heart and soul of Formula 1. ”
Wolff wears a black mourning bandage on his arm. Just like the entire Mercedes team. With a red star on the bonnet and Lauda's signature, the W10 is a reminder of the Formula 1 legend. Even more moving: A red cap that you put in the box over the headphones that were actually reserved for Niki Lauda.
Wolff spent most of his time with Lauda
The last one was three times World Champion at the GP England 2018 on the racetrack. Immediately after his lung operation in August last year, Wolff always kept him informed about the situation with the team and what is planned. Most recently, after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the two had exchanged views on racing events, where Mercedes clinched the fourth one-two of the season. 'He said: It couldn't be better, keep it up,' remembers Wolff. In the past few weeks, however, it has been shown that Lauda's state of health is deteriorating.
Wolff remembers how Lauda usually wandered into the Mercedes hospitality with his bag in the mornings and rounded up everyone. “He's the person I've spent most of the time with in the last five or six years,” says Wolff. 'He was my friend.'
Lauda named him a half-friend
Even the pragmatic Lauda, who was a friend of direct words, referred to the compatriotalmost as a friend. “We sat together on the plane on the way back from Suzuka. That was two years ago. We had won the World Cup. I saw then that he had a tear in his eye. I asked him if he was still getting emotional in his old age. And then he said to me: If there is such a thing as a half-friend, then you are one. '
What made Lauda so special? That he never gave up. No matter what happened. That was especially formative after his fire accident at the Nürburgring in 1976. “Niki lived his life every single day. He was always in the here and now and looked into the future. He was never interested in the past. ”
Wolff and Lauda find trust
Lauda was just as direct in his collaboration with Wolff. When the two tackled the Mercedes project, it took a while before they found each other. “It took us a year to calibrate,” says Wolff. “Each of us had our own company. But as a pragmatist he said: the better we work together, that way we will reach our goal faster. ' And so they found trust in each other.
The press conference is nearing its end shortly before 11 a.m. After all, the first Formula 1 training session is on the agenda. A difficult transition in the rapidly spinning Formula 1 world? 'Niki would have wanted nothing else than that we continue,' says Wolff.