Niki Lauda passed away on Monday, 20th May, 2019, at the age of 70.
The Austrian three-time Formula 1 world champion leaves behind a spectacular legacy in motorsport. Nicknamed “The Rat” due to his pragmatic attitude to life, Niki Lauda’s story was an inspiration to people all around the world, going beyond motorsport circles to become an example of sheer grit and determination in the face of death.
The Austrian Formula 1 legend leaves behind a huge motorsport fraternity mourning his loss.
Niki Lauda is one of the key motorsport personalities that have had huge impact in viewership upon their arrival in the spectacle. His famed rivalry with James Hunt would draw a huge crowd to Formula 1, and play a significant role in transforming the championship to the massive TV spectacle it is.
Lauda was fighting for the championship in 1976 when he crashed at the Nürburgring in August. He was trapped in his flaming Ferrari, suffering terrible burns. Fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Harald Ertl, Brett Lunger, and Guy Edwards pulled him out of the wreckage, and he was rushed to surgery. After a harrowing period of time in which he was even given the last rites, he pushed back to life.
Six weeks after the Nürburgring crash, Niki Lauda was back to racing. He was scarred, frightened and in pain, but continued his battle nonetheless. He finished his comeback race in Monza in the fourth position, after yet another spectacular race. The Hunt-Lauda rivalry was back on, the two trading punches until the season finale in torrential rain at Mount Fuji, Japan. Here Niki made a courageous decision to retire from the race because he believed the conditions were too dangerous to continue.
Niki Lauda with teammate James Hunt.
Born into a wealthy family in Vienna, Lauda had a falling-out with his kin over motorsport. His parents were against his wishes to go racing, but his grandmother bought him a Mini. Lauda began participating in hill climbs and local race events. Moving on to Formula Vee, he borrowed more and more money, resulting in the clash with his family. He debuted in Formula 1 at the Austrian GP in 1971.
His move to BRM in 1973 would show the world his technical talent as well as driving skills. He suggested technical changes to his BRM race car, and backed up his claim by scoring handsomely in the improved car. 1974 marked another highlight of his career when his BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni returned to Ferrari and recommended that the team bring Lauda on. The following year, Niki Lauda won his first World Championship, and a second title in 1977.
Lauda moved to Brabham after his second title and won the Swedish GP driving the famous Brabham “fan car”. After a less-than-appealing run for two years, he walked away from the sport in 1979 in Canada, saying he had had enough of “driving around in circles.”
By then he had developed a jet charter business and expanded it into an airline. Lauda Air was built into a respectable business with high levels of service at reasonable prices. Catering company Do&Co which worked for Lauda Air was introduced to Formula 1, where it manages the catering for the VIP Paddock Club to this day.
At the end of 1981, Niki Lauda returned to racing with McLaren, winning twice in the 1982 championship and finishing fifth overall. After serving up more nail-biting matches in the Formula 1 circus, Lauda announced his retirement from the sport in 1985 after clinching the title in 1984.
Lauda was always known for his strong beliefs, instinct, and brutal honesty. He refused to back down to Boeing in the 1991 Boeing 767 disaster that claimed the lives of 213 passengers and 10 crew. He conducted his own investigation into the matter and proved to the aeroplane manufacturer that it was their machinery that was defective.
He played a pivotal role in reeling in Lewis Hamilton for the Mercedes Formula 1 team in 2013. Lauda also had a brief stint with Ford Motor Co., overseeing the Jaguar Racing F1 team. He continued working with Mercedes until 2018, when he suffered a serious lung infection.
The spectacle of iron determination, and unbroken will.
The world of Formula 1 owes a lot to the man. His burnt, surgically reconstructed face is the face of willpower and single-minded determination. How can a man, despite nearly losing his life and collecting lifelong injuries come back to the sport that caused it? His devotion to racing was infectious, attracting thousands of followers of the sport. Niki Lauda is one of the men responsible for popularizing Formula 1 around the world. After all, the races were that amazing.
Lauda leaves his wife Birgit, their twins Max and Mia (born 2009), two sons Mathias and Lukas from his first wife Marlene Knaus, and a son Christoph from another relationship.