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The Calculative Racer : Niki Lauda

“FEW SPORTSMEN IN THE WORLD HAVE MANAGED TO SET A MARK AS POWERFUL AS NIKI LAUDA, WHOSE RETURN FROM A FATAL RACE ACCIDENT INJURY TO WIN TWO F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES IS ONE OF THE MOST COURAGEOUS AND INSPIRATIONAL COMEBACKS IN ANY SPORT, EVER.”

Born as Andreas Nikolaus Lauda, Niki Lauda was born into a wealthy Austrian business family on February 22, 1949 in Vienna, Austria. He had an innate interest in automobiles since his childhood and was always very focused about his future in professional racing. But even having a well-to-do family didn’t help much, because his family wasn’t willing to support his racing dreams. Initially, he started out with racing Minis and this was later followed by racing in Formula Vee and Formula Three. However, the clever and calculative personality he was, he capitalized on his family’s prestigious social status and acquired bank loans to buy his way into professional racing. So in 1971, he bought his way into the March team as a Formula 2 driver with a £30,000 bank loan secured by his life insurance policy, and subsequently got promoted to a Formula 1 driver. He then took out another bank loan to buy his way into the BRM Formula 1 team in 1973.

Nicknamed as ‘The Computer’, he had an impressive eye for mechanical details and improvements, complemented by a no-nonsense work ethic. Niki would give it his all for victory and his dream to become a top race car driver finally became a reality in 1974. His favourable recommendation by former BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni caught the attention of Enzo Ferrari and he was immediately signed to race for Ferrari. Scuderia Ferrari hadn’t had a champion since 1964, and Enzo had banked on Niki to get back to their winning ways. After some stellar performances in the Ferrari alongside his teammate Clay Regazzoni, Niki displaced Regazzoni as the team leader in the next racing season and comfortably went on to win his first F1 World Championship for Ferrari in 1975.

The next 1976 season started in the best possible way for the new World Champion. Niki lead the championship from the beginning and was well on his way for another consecutive championship title. But on 1st August 1976, a life-threatening crash at the dangerous Nürburgring during the German Grand Prix changed his life forever. On the second lap, Niki lost control of his car, hit an embankment and rolled back into the path of another car. The impact was tremendous and Niki’s car burst into flames. His colleagues managed to pull him out from the burning inferno, but he lapsed into a coma with several injuries and burns. Luckily, his conditions improved and in an impressive show of courage and extraordinary human-will, he returned to the Ferrari cockpit to race again six weeks later. However, during Lauda’s absence from two races, arch-rival James Hunt had closed in the point’s gap and Hunt was just short of 3 points for a championship victory by the end of the season Japanese GP. Both were determined to push their limits for the championship title, but Lauda returned to the pit lane during the race, due to the dangerously wet rainy conditions and a healing injury complication. Hunt continued to race and went on to win the championship, becoming the new world champion.

Then in 1977, Lauda again cruised to his second championship title, with 3 race wins backed up by five second places, and shockingly withdrew from Ferrari because he felt that the team was not backing him as lead driver after he returned from injury. He moved to Brabham, but the car was uncompetitive and his two Brabham seasons were unsuccessful. So in his 1979 season with Brabham, Niki walked away from Formula 1 racing during the practice session of the Canadian GP. He then promptly retired from F1 to devote himself to his airline business and to TV commentary. But in 1982, he made a comeback, joining the McLaren team for a reported US $5 Million and won his third and last World Championship title in 1984. Finally in 1985, he retired from the sport for good as a driver, though he never really left the paddock. He continued to work as an advisor for Ferrari, served as a Jaguar Team Principal and became a television commentator. As of now, Lauda has taken on the role of a non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team and also serves as the board member of Mercedes AMG Powertrains and special advisor to the Board of Daimler AG.

Niki Lauda was lucky to survive the massive dangers of Formula 1’s early days and brilliant enough to conquer with three Formula 1 World Championship titles to his name, the first two with Ferrari and the last with McLaren. Hence, the battle-scarred champion who defied both the odds and convention, now remains a living legend.

Things You Should Know About Niki Lauda

SPONSORED CAPS

In consideration of those who found his facial disfigurement unsightly after the life-threatening accident, he thereafter wore caps to cover up the burns on his head. Lauda however took the advantage this by setting up lucrative sponsorship deals for the caps that he wore!

RUSH MOVIE

Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, Rush revolves around the true story of a great sporting rivalry between the handsome English playboy James Hunt, and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda. The duo shared a career long world famous rivalry/friendship. James Hunt and Niki Lauda first developed a fierce rivalry in 1970 at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in England, when both their cars spun out and Hunt eventually won the race. The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error. Rush is a finely crafted biographical sports drama directed by Ron Howard with exhilarating race sequences and strong performances from Chris Hemsworth (Hunt) and Daniel Bruhl (Lauda). A must watch!

THE RAT

Lauda was known as ‘The Rat’ for his protruding teeth. This nickname was coined up by his sponsor Marlboro when they put ‘The Rat’ on his visor. A marketing guy had thought of it because of his teeth. James Hunt would at times use the nickname when speaking to Lauda.

SPECIAL EDITION FERRARI

One enthusiast had commissioned Ferrari’s Tailor Made division to customise a 458 Italia in tribute to legendary racing driver Niki Lauda. Focusing on his memorable spell racing for Ferrari – which included two Drivers’ Championship wins – the customisation department took inspiration from Lauda’s 312T F1 car. This Tailor Made 458 is red, but it also has a white roof and accents, as well as longitudinal roof-stripes in the colours of the Italian flag; and some very 70s gold wheels that really stand out. Inside, the themed tribute continues. No mechanical upgrades were commissioned though.

AVIATION ENTREPRENEUR

After his first retirement in 1979, Niki Lauda focused on running an international charter airline that he had established in April of that year called Lauda Air. In order to secure money for the business, he came out of retirement in 1982 and raced for McLaren. But he sold his Lauda Air shares to majority partner Austrian Airlines in 1999, and in 2003 he started another new airline, Niki, which eventually became a subsidiary of Air Berlin. Lauda has his commercial pilot’s license and has even been known to act as Captain on his airline’s flights from time to time.

INSPIRATIONAL COMEBACK

On August 1, 1976, while racing at the German Grand Prix on the lethal Nürburgring track in Germany, Niki Lauda’s Ferrari had crashed into a wall on a bend and burst into flames. He was trapped for nearly a minute in the 800+ degree inferno before his fellow racers pulled him out. This incident nearly killed him and left him fatally injured with damaged lungs, charred right ear, several broken bones and burns on his head, wrists and eyelids. He lapsed into a coma, was given up for dead and even administered the last rites by a priest at the hospital. But he surprisingly returned to race six weeks later, with his face still bleeding from the burns, vision not yet fully restored and head still bandaged. His astonishingly quick return to the cockpit is still popularly recalled as one of the most courageous comebacks in sporting history. Lauda, having already won the World Championship in 1975, would go on to be the Formula One World Champion the following season in 1977 and then again in 1984.

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