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Toto Wolff

Wolff recalls Nordschleife crash: ‘I thought I was dead’

Wolff suffered a puncture while travelling almost 200mph

Wolff
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Mercedes CEO and Team Principal Toto Wolff has provided an insight into his high-speed crash at the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 2009.

The German track - nicknamed the 'Green Hell' - is known to be one of the most dangerous in the world and last held an F1 World Championship race in 1976.

However, it is still in use today and is tackled by professionals and amateurs alike, including at the annual 24-Hour GT race.

Wolff, who aspired to be a racing driver before becoming a successful team manager, had previous success at the Nordschleife when winning in his class at the 1994 24 Hours of Nurburgring race.

Speaking on BBC's Desert Island Discs, Wolff explained that he returned to the track in 2009 to stamp his own mark at the venue.

“It was said that only locals can be really fast there," said Wolff.

”And there were professionals who were very successful at an international level, who drove on the Nordschleife and were never able to get near the locals.

“So I said to myself, I'll show them that I can beat the records. Niki [Lauda] had his bad accident there when he almost died in the flames.

“He said to me, 'Don't be so stupid. Nobody cares about the lap time on the Nordschleife. You could kill yourself’.”

'I felt that something was wrong'

Wolff described that during one of his training laps, he beat the record.

“But the car never felt stable, there was something, the tyres were just not good enough for this kind of downforce,” he added.

“And eventually, when I went for the run, I started the lap and I felt that something was wrong.

“This is where I realised you need to be a professional, I should’ve stopped the lap and driven back into the pits.”

The Austrian then suffered a puncture while travelling at almost 190 mph and impacted the barrier at a recorded force of 27G.

“The car rolled several times at high speed,” Wolff reflected. “It didn’t end up in the forest, I always came back into the track.

“After 350 metres the car stopped. I was badly injured but instinctively, I unplugged myself from the radio and got out.

“They found me behind the rail with my helmet on, lying in the grass. I thought I was dead.”

Wolff has no recollection of the crash itself, with his next memory being driven to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.

“[I thought] if this ends in paralysis, this was really the most stupid idea of my life,” he reflected.

“And I remember being taken to the hospital and having an MRI, and then I said to a nurse, 'Just let me know if everything is alright with my spine.

“The doctor said 'You have some fractures, but your spinal cord is unaffected.'

“That was a horrible 15 minutes [waiting for the news]. And yes, that was the moment I said to myself, never again [to] competitive racing."

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