Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has no doubts over Niki Lauda's return to the team in 2019. Towards the end of the 2018 season, the Brackley squad's non-executive chairman was forced to undergo a lung transplant following a sudden illness.
The transplant is not believed to be connected to the 1976 crash at the Nurburgring, which also almost cost the three-time F1 champion his life. Lauda is currently in recovery, recently revealing that he received a hand-written letter from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
After being absent from the grid in the second half of the season, Wolff is confident that Lauda will be present in the Mercedes garage next season: "I don't doubt he'll come back," Wolff told Austrian news source ORF. That will definitely happen.
"Last season was a real battle, where things went up and down. Then we had to process the shock of Niki. It first looked like an innocent illness, but that changed dramatically within a few hours, and every minute counted to get him to the hospital in Vienna.
"We've been leading this team together for the last five years," Wolff continued. "So I've noticed his absence more than anyone as a sparring partner and as a friend. That's why I'm looking forward to 2019, so we can walk this path together again."
However, Wolff isn't exactly sure when the Austrian will return: "Only the doctors and Niki make announcements about that. We don't want to raise expectations. Preferably I'd like to see him back at the season opener in Australia, but his health has the priority."
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing