Niki Lauda was a three-time world champion in
, successful entrepreneur and aviation enthusiast. Lauda’s life has been punctuated by great achievements in any field, tumultuous rivalries and incredible experiences. In the following lines we will attempt to summarize a full life, exploring Lauda’s Formula One career, his private life and his contributions to the sport beyond his time on the track.
The early years
Niki Lauda was born inVienna, Austria, in 1949. His family was wealthy and his father, Ernst, was a successful businessman. Initially, his parents wanted Lauda to work in banking, but Niki had a passion for racing cars. He began his racing career in 1968, driving for March Engineering in Formula 3, and within just three years managed to make his Formula 1 debut in the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix. 1971 was a year dedicated to Formula 2, enhanced by the debut in F1, the only race of the season in the top catagory.
The year 1972 saw Lauda working full-time for the March team in both the European Formula 2 and Formula 1 championships. At the time, it was not uncommon for drivers to race in multiple categories; as late as the 1970s, there were more than 20 races in 12 months. Lauda’s first seasons in Formula 1 were challenging, Niki struggled to find a competitive car, but in 1974 he was hired by Scuderia Ferrari and his fortunes changed dramatically.
Rivalry on the track
In 1975, Lauda, in his second year with Ferrari, won his first World Championship by dominating the season, winning five Grand Prix and finishing on the podium 11 times in 14 races. His most tenacious rival was his teammate, Clay Regazzoni. Regazzoni was a fierce competitor and had no qualms about competing hard with Lauda. The two drivers had a strong rivalry, but also much mutual respect. Ferrari dominated, and the fans, in between their excitement, went crazy with joy.
The Nurburgring crash and the Monza comeback
In 1976, Lauda, who was leading the championship, suffered a terrible accident during the German Grand Prix. His Ferrari caught fire after hitting the rocky embankment that lined that part of the track, he was trapped in the car for almost a minute before being rescued. Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards and Harald Ertl pulled him from the wreckage of his burning car, saving his life. Niki suffered severe burns to his face and lungs, and his chances of survival were slim. However, he made a remarkable recovery and returned to racing only six weeks later at Monza, with his injuries still healing. He then demonstrated superhuman will and courage; slipping on and off his helmet was very painful and he was still using protective dressings for his wounds. After qualifying tenth he managed in the race to finish fourth, Niki was back and the world championship still seemed within reach. Only 42 days had passed since the German race, but it seemed like a lifetime.
Not all stories end well, however, and 1976 ended with Lauda retiring from the very wet Japanese Grand Prix, effectively ceding the title to Hunt by a single point. Lauda deemed it too dangerous to race that day on the Fuji track and, consistent as always, stopped. Engineer Forghieri, technical director of the Maranello team, made himself available to tell a little lie by resorting to the classic “electrical failure,” but Lauda would have none of it and told his truth. The relationship with the grand old man of world motoring then begins to crack.
The years with La Brabham and the 1979 retirement
In 1977, however, there was a return to “normalcy”: Lauda won his second World Championship, but left Ferrari for Brabham because of some disagreements and misunderstandings that arose in the difficult period between the German accident and the withdrawal from the Japanese race. Thus ends the collaboration between the Austrian driver and the Maranello team, which in four years had produced two world titles, a second and a fourth place. What a time.
1978 saw Lauda at the wheel of Bernie Ecclestone‘s Brabham; Niki had a fast but unreliable car and the season was marked by a long series of retirements; he won two races in Sweden and Monza and was fourth overall.
In 1979 the British team’s performance collapsed due to reliability problems and an uncompetitive car. At the end of a practice session at the Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda decided to retire from racing effective immediately…he notified Ecclestone and returned to Austria to devote himself full time to running his airline, Lauda Air, which he had founded that same year.
McLaren, comeback and triumph
The new venture is going well for Lauda but he evidently lacks the adrenaline of racing. In 1982 he decided to return, in part thanks to a $3 million super-hire, with McLaren, It was a good year that saw him win two races and finish the championship in fifth place. After such a comeback one expects great things…instead 1983 is a year to forget. triumph came in 1984, however, when Lauda won his third World Championship, beating his teammate, Alain Prost, by only half a point.
Lauda as a man
Off the track, Lauda was known for his outspoken personality and sense of humor and often gave witty answers to journalists’ questions. When asked if he would like to see changes in the regulations, he once replied, “Yes, I would like to see race cars replaced by airplanes. That way I would win all the races.” He was also known for his love of good food and wine, and often indulged in both even when he was in full swing.
He was very private and did not like to talk about his private life. He was married twice and had two sons, Mathias and Lukas. Mathias followed in his father’s footsteps and became a professional driver, currently he is involved with AstonMartin as their official driver in the FIA WEC and Lukas is his manager.
Lauda, passion for planes and consulting in Formula 1
Lauda was passionate about aviation and held a commercial pilot ‘s license. In 1979 he founded Lauda Air, known for its high safety standards and excellent service; after a few years he sold it to Austrian Airlines. He later founded and managed several low-cost and leisure airlines. Twice a week he personally flew his commercial aircraft-Captain Niki Lauda.
After retiring Lauda also worked as a consultant for several Formula One teams, including Ferrari and Jaguar as Team Principal. Incidentally, in 2002 he jumped into the Jaguar and tested it in Valencia, which was 18 years after his last racing season. In 2012 he was appointed non-executive chairman of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team and played a key role in the team’s success in the following years until his death in 2019.
His outspoken style and ability to rise above the politics of sports are remembered.
Relationships with other pilots
Lauda had a complicated relationship with other drivers. He was respected for his driving skills and determination to win, but he could also be abrasive and confrontational, they said of him:
Alain Prost “Niki was a great champion and a great man. He was always very fair on the track and very direct off. He was one of my toughest competitors, but we always had a lot of respect for each other.”
Lewis Hamilton, who won the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix wearing a helmet with a design that paid tribute to Lauda, said “Niki was a legend of the sport and it was an honor to know him. He achieved so much in his life, both on and off the track, and he will always be remembered as one of the greats.”
Sebastian Vettel “Niki was a real inspiration to me, both as a driver and as a person. He was a fighter and never gave up, even in the most difficult moments. He will be sorely missed.”
Damon Hill “Niki was a great driver and a great ambassador for the sport. He had a sharp mind and a wicked sense of humor, and he always spoke his mind. He will be remembered as one of the true characters of the sport.”
Gerhard Berger “Niki was a friend and mentor to me, and I learned a lot from him. He was a great driver and a great businessman, and he had a unique perspective on the sport. He will be missed by all who knew him.”
David Coulthard: “Niki Lauda was a giant of the sport and his passing is a huge loss to the entire Formula One community. He will never be forgotten.” It will never be forgotten.”
The unforgettable races
Niki Lauda’s career was filled with moments that will forever be etched in Formula 1 history. Here are the ones that old fans remember:
1974 Spanish Grand Prix: Lauda’s first victory in Formula 1. The Austrian He dominated the race by taking the lead immediately, his pace was such that he doubled almost all of his opponents and finished more than a minute ahead of the runner-up.
1975 Monaco Grand Prix: Lauda won the race despite gearbox problems that occurred for much of the race. Despite a wrist injury, Lauda drove a flawless race and took the victory.
1975 Italian Grand Prix: It was a crucial race for Lauda’s season as he won the championship. He started from pole position, but had to struggle with his teammate Clay Regazzoni for much of the race. In the end he won by just over a second.
The 1976 British Grand Prix: It was a hard-fought victory for Lauda, who had to overcome James Hunt in the final stages of the race.
Certainly, however, One of the most emblematic moments in Niki Lauda’s career was his decision to retire from the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, which ultimately handed the championship title to his chief rival, James Hunt. The race was held in torrential rain, and Lauda, who had suffered a terrible accident earlier in the season, felt the conditions were too dangerous to continue. Despite his lead in the championship standings, he decided to retire from the race after only two laps. Hunt won the race and took the title by a single point. Lauda’s decision was controversial at the time, but it demonstrated his integrity and commitment to safety, even at the cost of a championship title. In later years, Lauda and Hunt became close friends, and their rivalry and mutual respect became the subject of the film “Rush.”
1977 South African Grand Prix: dominant victory for Lauda, who led every lap of the race and finished more than a minute ahead of the runner-up.
1977 German Grand Prix: classic battle between Lauda and his main rival, Jody Scheckter. The two exchanged the lead several times, but it was Lauda who came out on top, in the year he managed to win his second world championship.
Grand Prix Of America, Long Beach 1982: this was Lauda’s first victory on his return to Formula One. Starting from third on the grid he climbed back up to lead and resumed attending the podium.
1984 Portuguese Grand Prix: last race of the year, tense battle between Lauda and teammate.
Pictures from the top: Christian Sinclair, Niki Lauda, driving his Scuderia Ferrari at the 1975 United States Grand Prix, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Martin Lee, Niki Lauda - Ferrari 312T2 approaches Druids at the 1976 Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Martin Lee, Niki Lauda at the 1982 British Grand Prix, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Thomas Ormston, Susie Wolff and Niki Lauda, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.