Lewis, who had a very special connection with Niki, also appreciated that side of the man. “They are both multiple world champions,” adds Toto. “Very few people have experienced what these two have – winning races and titles over the years, competing at the limit against the best drivers and teams in the world. And it’s a bond that is extremely important.”
Niki’s contribution to the annals of the premier class of motorsport was immense. For example, his three world championship titles (1975, 1977 and 1984), 25 race wins, 54 podium appearances and 24 pole positions in 171 Grand Prix starts.
"From success, you learn absolutely nothing. From failure and setbacks conclusions can be drawn. That goes for your private life as well as your career." - Niki Lauda
But Niki was so much more than the sum of his successes on the racetrack, as Toto remembers from his own childhood: “He was the most famous person in Austria. Every kid growing up in the 70s, 80s or 90s knew who he was. Everybody looked up to him, and so did I. He was a living legend, the most iconic Formula 1 personality and one of the biggest names in sports on a global level.”
This continued far beyond the end of his Formula 1 career. And, of course, the eventful year of 1976 is an important part of Niki’s racing career. It was one of Niki’s greatest character traits that took centre stage: his relentless fighting spirit.
At the racetrack, during memorable overtaking manoeuvres, in the business arena and especially after his serious accident on the Nordschleife, Niki always remained totally resolute: Never give up. Never surrender. Always keep going. Looking forward, not back. These are the qualities that distinguished Niki Lauda the fighter – whether in the cockpit, at the negotiating table or on his hospital bed when receiving the last rites.
In Niki, motorsport has lost its greatest combatant. Toto: “One of Niki’s greatest characteristics was that he never gave up the fight. Consequently, the day on which he had his accident was a defining episode in his life.” The terrible fire, the severe burns, the life-and-death struggle and the comeback after only 42 days – this is the stuff of legend, and it was literally the script for a Hollywood movie.
Niki was the heart and soul of Formula 1, one of the greatest legends of our sport. He embodied heroism, humanity and decency – both on and off the racetrack. He leaves a great void in Formula 1, in our team and in the hearts of all who knew and loved him. None of us will ever forget him.
And Toto will never forget the last piece of advice from Niki. It was in 2019 after the team’s one-two victory in Baku, the last time the two friends spoke to each other. Niki’s comment to Toto: “It doesn’t come much better than this. Keep it up!” A message the team will carry with them forever.
“That was Niki as he lived and breathed,” says Toto with a smile. We take our hat off to this Niki. Thank you, fighter.