On 20th May 2019, the world of Formula One was in mourning. One of its greats had been lost. Aged 70, Andreas Nikolaus Lauda passed away. The word ‘legend’, the word ‘inspiration’ is perhaps over-used, yet Lauda was both.
Despite a triple World Champion, it is not those titles that he is most renowned for and that is testament to the tremendous individual he was.
Widely viewed as “the greatest sporting comeback in history”, the way he fought back and returned to racing so soon after his accident at the Nurburgring in 1976, potentially puts his title wins of 1975, 1977 and 1984 in the background.
It really was that courageous of an act, almost “miracle-like” the way he returned.
Suffering extensive burns whilst inhaling toxic fumes to then need a lung transplant, Niki Lauda was close to dying. Yet remarkably, the Austrian returned to racing just 40 days later and then won two additional World Championships. Courage, brave, astonishment, inspiration…no word can do this remarkable feat justice.
Niki Lauda was one of a kind.
The 21st century largely witnessed the triple World Champion take up management roles, and it was his charm that became further evident to the fans of Formula One worldwide.
Not only was he a natural in the car but also out of it, in which a large part of Mercedes’ success can be put down to Lauda, especially with his role in the recruitment of Lewis Hamilton from McLaren.
It was once unthinkable to have a Formula One paddock without Niki, yet unfortunately, his illness became severe in the latter half of 2018 and the borrowed time since his crash came to its conclusion.
But let’s look at his career to see how great and courageous of a man he really was.
Becoming a World Champion
In 1975, aged 26, Lauda won his maiden World Championship at Ferrari, however it was no conventional, easy route to becoming champion for the Austrian.
At a young age he was forced to deal with the family disapproval of his racing. However despite this, it did not stop his determination to become a Formula One World Champion.
The early days featured Lauda racing in Formula 3 alongside the 1976 World Champion, James Hunt. It is a common assumption due to the film, “Rush”, that the rivalry between the two was so intense that it also affected their relationship off the track.
However, James Hunt’s son, Freddie, has said that during their time in F3, the two “shared a flat together” believing them to be very good friends, which lasted up until Hunt’s death in 1993.
But Lauda didn’t stick around in F3 for long, in which he bought his way into F2 driving for March at the price of £30,000. Despite paying his way into the category, that was irrelevant because his ability did the talking.
Within 12 months, he was promoted to their Formula One team but in his first season at the top, the car was a backmarker. Lauda did not like what he saw and so he acted quickly paying BRM for a race seat in the 1973 season.
Yet again his ability did the talking and he excelled at BRM.
He was only there for a season before he got his big break to Ferrari alongside BRM team-mate, Clay Regazzoni. And Ferrari became his home for the next four years.
In only his second season at the team, he became World Champion.
Following 5 race wins that season, Lauda won the title with a race spare in which he also set a record to become the first driver to lap the Nurburgring in under seven minutes. A feat which makes his crash a year later, even more shocking.
It was officially Lauda’s time to shine and his growing legacy was underway.