​​The forgotten story of Toto Wolff, the Red Bull driver

Toto Wolff is best known for being one of the most successful team principals in F1 history by spearheading Mercedes’ unprecedented winning streak, but there was a time he raced in Red Bull colours. 
Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director on the grid. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 15,
Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director on the…

That’s right, Wolff, the man who has played a key role in helping Mercedes to claim a record eight consecutive constructors’ world championships and seven drivers’ titles across the past eight seasons, once donned the overalls of Mercedes’ F1 nemesis. 

Long before his venture into becoming a renowned team boss in F1, the then successful businessman Wolff was a capable racing driver in sports cars. He even had a foray into rally driving.

After beginning his career in Formula Ford, Wolff won his category in the 1994 Nurburgring 24 Hours and later competed in the FIA GT Championship and Italian GT Championship. 

Between 2004 and 2006, Wolff raced in blue Red Bull overalls and a car splashed in the energy drinks firm’s branding. Alongside Karl Wendlinger, Dieter Quester and Stefano Zonca, Wolff took class victory in the 1000 Miles of Interlagos in 2004. Amid treacherously wet conditions, it was Wolff who posted the quickest lap time. 

Wolff, Quester, and Philipp Peter also won the Misano 6 Hours in 2005, while the trio, along with German legend Hans-Joachim Stuck, made history by becoming the inaugural winners of the Dubai 24 Hour race in 2006. 

At all of these events, Wolff wore Red Bull colours. 

Nearly two decades later, Wolff found himself leading Mercedes against Red Bull in one of the fiercest and most intense title battles F1 has ever seen. 

The 2021 F1 world championship saw the beginning of a truly epic rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, but the fighting spilled off track as well. 

Wolff and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner engaged in a brutal rivalry, with the pair coming to blows in a war of words several times throughout the season as the title battle heated up. 

(L to R): Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing
(L to R): Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive…

The day record-chasing Wolff nearly died

In April 2009, Wolff set about tackling the revered 20.7km Nurburgring Nordschleife, considered to be the toughest and most dangerous track in the world. 

Indeed, no accident at the Nordschleife is ever small. Three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda, who nearly lost his life at the circuit in a horrific, fiery crash in 1976, warned his friend it was “idiotic” to embark on a lap record attempt. 

But Wolff was undeterred. On his test lap, he broke the GT car lap record held at the time by the late Sabine Schmitz - dubbed the Queen of the Nurburgring - by four seconds with a 7:03.28 in his Porsche 911 RSR. 

Determined to post a sub-seven minute lap, and potentially achieve a new outright record, Wolff kept pushing hard - despite noticing that the car’s handling wasn’t right. 

Wolff was travelling flat-out at 189mph when the right rear tyre on his Porsche exploded, pitching him into a violent spin into the guardrail at Fuchsröhre. 

Although Wolff initially got out of the car unaided, he lost consciousness and collapsed. Wolff suffered a heavy concussion and was taken to hospital. Wolff initially reported he could not feel his legs. 

The ferocious crash damaged Wolff’s nerves and left him unable to taste or smell for six months.

"I was fine but I decided not to return to the Nordschleife anymore," Wolff told ESPN in an interview reflecting on the accident. 

"I love this track and I don't regret a thing, but then I met Niki Lauda again - who before had said that the record attempt was idiotic - and when I came back and we had dinner again, he simply said 'I told you so’.

"So that was my experience of the Nordschleife."

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