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At Home With the Boss: Toto’s Austrian GP Memories

For Toto, the Austrian Grand Prix is more than just a home race.

The 4.3km layout carved into the idyllic green Styrian hillside is not just a chance for our Vienna-born boss to return to his homeland for a Grand Prix every year, but a reminder of his early days in motorsport, and the site of his favourite moment working in Formula One.

“I used to work at the Red Bull Ring. It has always felt a bit like a second home,” he says.

“Back then it was known as the Österreichring. I was 18 years old, and a driving instructor.”.

A teacher he may have been, but back then Toto himself was a pupil of motorsport, with dreams of graduating to the top of the class.

“I was trying to make a living and finance my own driving career,” he adds. The best part was always getting to shake down the cars at the end of the day when everyone else had gone home.”

This was 1991. The circuit had not hosted a race for four years because of safety concerns, with the infrastructure that surrounds the circuit today still some years from being put in place.

Things were very different for Toto, too.

“I would sleep in a farmhouse near to the track while I was doing the instructing, the people were super lovely and friendly,” he says.

“I would drive back and forth between Vienna in those days, in my Seat Ibiza. I could barely afford the fuel!”

The race returned to the F1 calendar in 1997, rebranded as the A1-Ring and bearing a closer resemblance to the short, undulating, and testing layout the drivers face today.

It remained part of the Grand Prix schedule until 2003, before disappearing once again.

More than a decade would pass before F1 returned to what was now the Red Bull Ring, and much had changed.

The sport was now in its Hybrid era, and Toto had gone from teacher to Team Principal.

Mercedes had dominated the start of the season, but the other standout storyline was Williams, who had become a force again with the Mercedes Hybrid Power Unit built in Brixworth.

Felipe Massa’s pole in Austria was Williams’ first for two years, and would be the only time in 2014 that Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton did not line up at the front of the grid.

Twenty-four hours later and Nico and Lewis had led home a Silver Arrows 1-2, closely followed by Valtteri Bottas and Massa in the Williams. Toto calls the result one of his favourite in all his time in the pinnacle of motorsport.

“Not only did we win the race, but we finished first and second. I was still a shareholder back at Williams who finished third and fourth.”

Toto’s cars had filled the top four positions, and he had come full circle.

“Driving home I remembered that 15 years ago I had been driving back trying to make a living, earning very little money as an instructor.

“Here I was as a Team Principal with the winning F1 team. It was surreal taking that car back to Vienna all those years later and realising how everything had changed.

“It was one of those moments in F1 that I will cherish forever.”

It was one of those moments in F1 that I will cherish forever.

Toto

The race left its mark on Toto as he headed home that night. Back at the track, the team were leaving their mark on the circuit before doing the same.

“The mechanics decided to hang a Mercedes star off of the Bull in the middle of the circuit,” recalls Toto.

“They were balancing on a lorry and then standing on a ladder to put the star on – I do not think health and safety would sign that off today!”

Nowadays the Austrian Grand Prix provides Toto one of his favourite weeks of the year, a chance to reflect and revisit the starting point of a journey that begun over three decades ago.

“It is one of those places I have been going to all of my life,” he says.

“I get to see all of my former Austrian colleagues that work at the Red Bull Ring, as well as Niki [Lauda’s] family – which is always special.

“I see my family in Vienna before and after the race too. It is one of my biggest highlights in the race calendar.”

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