An emotional Toto Wolff describes himself as feeling “like a zombie” since receiving the news that his friend and colleague Niki Lauda had passed away on Monday.
Lauda had struggled with health issues since undergoing a double lung transplant last year, and the 70-year-old died peacefully on Monday. Mercedes team principal Wolff worked extremely closely with Lauda as the three-time Formula 1 world champion was Mercedes non-executive chairman, and was visibly emotional as he talked about his fellow Austrian in Monaco on Thursday.
“It’s so difficult for me to try to talk about Niki — the icon in Formula 1 that he was, I think the biggest icon that we had — because my emotions are so overwhelming as a friend,” Wolff said. “The last 48 hours were terrible; I feel like a zombie. I keep looking at the pictures find myself with tears in the eyes every half an hour because he’s not there anymore.
“There’s just a huge black cloud and somebody that is so dearly missed in this team and so dearly missed in Formula 1, I feel like we’ve lost what was the heart and soul of Formula 1.”
Wolff described Lauda as a “sparring partner” who offered so much to Mercedes, as he helped build the team that is currently on a run of five straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship doubles.
“As you can imagine, this is very difficult. Very difficult for the team, for all of us, and most importantly very difficult as a friend because it’s not an easy situation to try and go back to racing, especially now in Monaco with so much media attention. In front of all of you, trying to keep it together emotionally in speaking about a friend. This is the point that matters the most and hurts the most.
“It is one thing that the world and the Formula 1 community has lost the biggest icon, but it was a totally different and much more difficult situation that we’ve lost a friend. We have been missing Niki at every single race since the end of last season when he fell ill, and at the beginning of this season, but again being faced with him not being among us anymore, being faced with me personally not texting him anymore or speaking to him after the weekend, receiving his feedback and using him as a sparring partner is the most difficult.”
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the opening practice session in Monaco after being excused from a number of duties on Wednesday, and while Wolff says the loss has hit Hamilton hard he insists Lauda would want the team to focus on racing this weekend.
“Besides the friendship that we both had to Niki there was an additional bond that Lewis had to Niki and that was one of a Formula 1 world champion. Therefore, the over-arching feeling is just sadness within the team, and that is the same for Lewis and others that are friends to him.
“We both got the message at the same time on Sunday and spoke to each other straight afterwards. Everybody has their own personal way of mourning and sadness, but to conclude Niki would want us to concentrate on the race weekend and deliver on Saturday and deliver on Sunday.”