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A TRUE LEGEND NIKI LAUDA 1949-2019

The following appeared in our glossy Velocity Magazine and during this tough time we thought it would be appropriate to share and publish a few of our special stories online. It is in full so make a coffee!

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A true legend in every sense of the word – Niki Lauda  1949 – 2019

”With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday. His unique achievements as an athlete and an entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain. A role model and a benchmark for all of us.”

The statement issued by Niki Lauda’s family on 20th May 2019 was simple yet concise. It was also quite fitting of Lauda himself, who had possessed a personality that was often blunt and to the point.

A 3 time Formula 1 World Champion, who won 25 of the 171 races contested throughout his career, Niki Lauda was best known for his recovery from a fiery accident at the Nurburgring in 1976 that left him with horrific burns and  life threatening injuries.  Just 7 weeks later, having at one stage received the last rites and with his body soaked with blood stained bandages, Lauda raced in the Italian Grand Prix.

Niki Lauda began his racing career, despite the condemnation from his family,  in a humble Mini.. He soon progressed to the open wheel categories in a Formula Vee and then a McNamara Formula 3. It was in that F3 that he first met long time rival James Hunt.

“I watched this buck toothed Austrian trying to make sense of this uncompetitive car and thought that he was a bit of a berk initially to be honest,” said well respected motorsport journalist Alan Henry. “But a year or so later we watched him overtake Ronnie Petersen in a Formula 2 race in Rouen and we realised he was actually pretty good.”

He went on to claim two more Formula One World Championship crowns. The scars from the accident that Lauda wore for the rest of his life were a vivid reminder of the accident and a testimony to his determination and courage . Whilst the Lauda family had found considerable success in the paper manufacturing industry, they were not willing to support  his motor racing.  Undeterred, Niki Lauda used the good name of the family and a life insurance policy to source a 35,000 pound bank loan, which he called ‘sponsorship.’

The money was used to source a drive with the March F2 team in 1971/72, where he was teamed with Ronnie Petersen.  Petersen won the 1971 title, while Lauda struggled in the Bosch Racing entry.  A second year in the category saw Lauda finish 5th.

March designer Robin Herd referred to Niki Lauda’s analytical mind set as the characteristic that gave the Austrian his speed and tenacity.  He recalled a F2 test at Thruxton where Lauda and Petersen traded fastest times throughout the day. “I thought, we have a problem,” Herd said. ‘We haven’t got one superstar here, but two.”

The turning point in Lauda’s career came in 1973, when he used his ‘sponsorship’ money to take a seat in a Marlboro BRM team that had been steadily falling down the F1 order for some time. While Lauda had just one point scoring finish that year at Spa,  he ran 3rd at Monaco and then led at a wet Canadian Grand Prix before retiring from both events. His efforts attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari, who signed Lauda for the following year.

Lauda was hired to help Ferrari return to the top echelon of sport after two winless years in Grand Prix racing.  Lauda was joined at the team by designer Mauro Forghieri and team manager Luca di Montezemolo.

Lauda didn’t endear himself to Mr Ferrari after an initial test where he labelled the car as ‘junk’, nor when a spin at the Nurburgring put him out of contentaion for the 1974 World Championship after winning the Spanish and Dutch GPs.

The Ferrari 312T paved the way for Lauda to win the 1975 Formula One World Championship, a year Lauda himself
described as “unbelievable’.’ Just two drivers were able to win more than one race that season, with Lauda’s five victories more than double the success of his nearest rival.

Niki Lauda looked set for back to back championships after a dominant start to the 1976 World Championship, with five race wins and a further three podiums in the first  9 races. The came the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.  Lauda crashed heavily on lap 2  when his car suddenly snapped right due to a suspected rear suspension failure. The car hit the barriers then spun back onto the circuit with flames licking around the cockpit. The Hesketh of Harold Ertl and Surtees of Brett Lunger then made contact  with the burning Ferrari. Arturio Merzario reached into the cockpit to unbuckle the unconscius Lauda. Lunger, Ertl and Guy Edwards, who had stopped at the scene, dragged Lauda from the wreckage.

Niki Lauda suffered severe burns to his head and wrists as well as burnt lungs from inhaling toxic  fumes while still trapped in the car. For weeks Lauda hovered between life and death as specialists treated his injuries and applied dressings to whate

mained of the flesh around his face and wrists.  While many wondered if Niki Lauda would survive, he was desperate to defend his world champion crown. Ferrari had already brought Carlos Reutemann into the team for the Italian Grand Prix and were forced to add a third car for Lauda after he had announced his decision to return to racing.


Jackie Stewart, called Lauda’s return The most courageous event in the history of sport. He said:  Niki had a degree of bravery that I had never seen the like of before. After his tremendous accident, he was back just six weeks later. I remember seeing Niki put his helmet on, and his wounds were still absolutely obvious. I thought to myself that with all the vibrations you get in a Formula One car at Monza, one of the fastest tracks in the world, that this cant be right. To be brave enough to put on the helmet was amazing, but then he went out and qualified fifth. When he returned to the garage, he took his helmet off and I could see he was bleeding. Yet, the very next day, he raced.

The return kept Niki Lauda in sight of a second world championship at the final round at the Fuji Speedway in Japan.  Hunt started marginally ahead of Lauda on a miserably wet day, with streams of water running freely across parts of the circuit. Lauda lasted barely two laps before he stopped in the pits and walked away from his car. The decision all but handed the 1976 World Championship to James Hunt who drove to the title with a cautious 3rd placed finish.

“It is not for me,” Lauda explained to reporters at the track. “There are more things in life than a world championship.”

Lauda’s relationship with Ferrari was never the same after that Sunday in Japan. Enzo Ferrari offered Lauda the role of team manager for the 1977 season, with Carlos Reutemann as the team’s number 1 driver. Niki Lauda responded by asking for a release from his Ferrari contract as he had been offered a deal to race with McLaren (which was a complete fabrication from Lauda). Ferrari relented and gave Lauda the second seat at Ferrari.

Lauda explained his strategy for the 1977 season: “My first priority was to put Reutemann in his place and secure the number one spot at Ferrari,” (Niki Lauda To Hell and Back 1986). By the third race of the season, this had been more or less accomplished  and I was able to concentrate all my efforts on pushing for technical progress, the Ferrari was no longer the fast car of years gone by, we only managed two pole positions in the season.”

The Championship became a four way fight between Lauda in the Ferrari , James Hunt in a McLaren, Jodie Scheckter in the Wolf and Mario Andretti in the Lotus. Andretti won more races, though it was Lauda’s consistency of 10 podiums with 3 wins during the season that handed him the title with two races left to run.

Lauda didn’t endear himself to Mr Ferrari after an initial test where he labelled the car as ‘junk’, nor when a spin at the Nurburgring put him out of contentaion for the 1974 World Championship after winning the Spanish and Dutch GPs.

The Ferrari 312T paved the way for Lauda to win the 1975 Formula One World Championship, a year Lauda himself
described as “unbelievable’.’ Just two drivers were able to win more than one race that season, with Lauda’s five victories more than double the success of his nearest rival.

Niki Lauda looked set for back to back championships after a dominant start to the 1976 World Championship, with five race wins and a further three podiums in the first  9 races. The came the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.  Lauda crashed heavily on lap 2  when his car suddenly snapped right due to a suspected rear suspension failure. The car hit the barriers then spun back onto the circuit with flames licking around the cockpit. The Hesketh of Harold Ertl and Surtees of Brett Lunger then made contact  with the burning Ferrari. Arturio Merzario reached into the cockpit to unbuckle the unconscius Lauda. Lunger, Ertl and Guy Edwards, who had stopped at the scene, dragged Lauda from the wreckage.

Niki Lauda suffered severe burns to his head and wrists as well as burnt lungs from inhaling toxic  fumes while still trapped in the car. For weeks Lauda hovered between life and death as specialists treated his injuries and applied dressings to whate

mained of the flesh around his face and wrists.  While many wondered if Niki Lauda would survive, he was desperate to defend his world champion crown. Ferrari had already brought Carlos Reutemann into the team for the Italian Grand Prix and were forced to add a third car for Lauda after he had announced his decision to return to racing.


Jackie Stewart, called Lauda’s return The most courageous event in the history of sport. He said:  Niki had a degree of bravery that I had never seen the like of before. After his tremendous accident, he was back just six weeks later. I remember seeing Niki put his helmet on, and his wounds were still absolutely obvious. I thought to myself that with all the vibrations you get in a Formula One car at Monza, one of the fastest tracks in the world, that this cant be right. To be brave enough to put on the helmet was amazing, but then he went out and qualified fifth. When he returned to the garage, he took his helmet off and I could see he was bleeding. Yet, the very next day, he raced.

The return kept Niki Lauda in sight of a second world championship at the final round at the Fuji Speedway in Japan.  Hunt started marginally ahead of Lauda on a miserably wet day, with streams of water running freely across parts of the circuit. Lauda lasted barely two laps before he stopped in the pits and walked away from his car. The decision all but handed the 1976 World Championship to James Hunt who drove to the title with a cautious 3rd placed finish.

It is not for me, Lauda explained to reporters at the track. “There are more things in life than a world championship.

Lauda’s relationship with Ferrari was never the same after that Sunday in Japan. Enzo Ferrari offered Lauda the role of team manager for the 1977 season, with Carlos Reutemann as the team’s number 1 driver. Niki Lauda responded by asking for a release from his Ferrari contract as he had been offered a deal to race with McLaren (which was a complete fabrication from Lauda). Ferrari relented and gave Lauda the second seat at Ferrari.

Lauda explained his strategy for the 1977 season: My first priority was to put Reutemann in his place and secure the number one spot at Ferrari, (Niki Lauda To Hell and Back 1986). By the third race of the season, this had been more or less accomplished  and I was able to concentrate all my efforts on pushing for technical progress, the Ferrari was no longer the fast car of years gone by, we only managed two pole positions in the season.

The Championship became a four way fight between Lauda in the Ferrari , James Hunt in a McLaren, Jodie Scheckter in the Wolf and Mario Andretti in the Lotus. Andretti won more races, though it was Lauda’s consistency of 10 podiums with 3 wins during the season that handed him the title with two races left to run.

Lauda felt that the trust between himself and Ferrari had been breached and he had stored this memory in his mind like a rogue elephant. Once the championship had been won at the US Grand Prix, Lauda sat out the final two races of the year.

Once I had secured the world championship for a second time, I didnt feel like putting up with the ridiculously strained atmosphere, so I declined to start in Canada and Japan, Lauda said. Enzo Ferrari was indeed put out and he tossed a few choice remarks my way.

Lauda moved to the Bernie Eccelstone owned Brabham organist ion for the 1978 season. The Gordon Murray designed car was innovative, though  the car suffered with the Alfa Romeo engine. Lauda explained the year in a rather unique way.

Everything would have gone a dream if we had a different engine. The 12 cylinder Alfa simply couldnt hack it, Niki said. We missed finishing race after race because of some nonsense or other, an oil seal defect or similar. I visited Chiti a couple of times in Milan and was always fascinated by the 40 or so stray dogs that ran around the workshop. He seemed to be looking after every stray in Milan. He fed them and had them checked out by a vet. All this care and attention didnt seem to apply to the engines that were being put together.

While Lauda enjoyed the more ‘normal’ relationship with Eccelstone and Murray at Brabham, the endless mechanical woes with the Alfa Romeo engine had taken its toll on Lauda’s racing resolve and a late season move to the Ford Cosworth V8 engine failed to reignite the spark.

During practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda came to the sudden realisation that he no longer wanted to drive around in circles. He approached Bernie Eccelstone and told him he was retiring. He immediately left the circuit with young Argentinian driver Riccardo Zunino drafted in to the drive. With no gear at the track he wore Lauda’s overalls and helmet. It wasn’t until Niki Lauda was on a flight back to Europe that the paddock realised that it wasn’t Lauda at the wheel of the Brabham.

Niki Lauda took his love of speed and machinery to new heights as he entered a new chapter of his life, away from Formula One. He became a commercial pilot and established his own airline. Lauda Air. The business began with turbo prop Fokker airplanes and then moved to jets with the Boeing 767. The company quickly gained a reputation for its service and the occasional privilege of having Niki Lauda as the captain of their flight.

Tragedy struck on 26 May 1991, when Lauda Air flight 004 from Bangkok to Austria crashed when the 767 automatically deployed reverse thrust mid flight. All 213 passengers and 10 crew were killed in the accident. Lauda pursued Boeing to admit fault and eventually succeeded after offering to fly a 767 over Boeing’s Seattle headquarters and  select reverse thrust. Boeing capitulated within hours.

“If I make a mistake and die in a race car, tough luck, but the people who fly with me have the right to expect safe travel,” Lauda explained as the reason behind his actions towards Boeing.

The airline suffered losses as a result of the accident and subsequent investigative processes, which some argue prompted Lauda’s return to racing.

Ron Dennis had been in regular contact with Niki throughout his retirement, and eventually coaxed him back for the 1982 season in  a Ford Cosworth powered car.  His contract included a review clause after three race as team sponsor Marlboro were concerned that the retirement may have dulled the Austrian’s talent.  Any doubts were put to rest when he won the third race of the season at Long Beach. He won again in Great Britain that year and finished the season in 5th. 1983 was a low point for Lauda and the team as they again ran the Ford Cosworth V8 engine, which proved to be uncompetitive against the new wave of turbo charged engines. Lauda pushed for the use of the TAG/Porsche engine with an interim chassis later in the year as the season slipped away from McLaren.

Lauda didn’t endear himself to Mr Ferrari after an initial test where he labelled the car as ‘junk’, nor when a spin at the Nurburgring put him out of contentaion for the 1974 World Championship after winning the Spanish and Dutch GPs.

The Ferrari 312T paved the way for Lauda to win the 1975 Formula One World Championship, a year Lauda himself
described as “unbelievable’.’ Just two drivers were able to win more than one race that season, with Lauda’s five victories more than double the success of his nearest rival.

Niki Lauda looked set for back to back championships after a dominant start to the 1976 World Championship, with five race wins and a further three podiums in the first  9 races. The came the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.  Lauda crashed heavily on lap 2  when his car suddenly snapped right due to a suspected rear suspension failure. The car hit the barriers then spun back onto the circuit with flames licking around the cockpit. The Hesketh of Harold Ertl and Surtees of Brett Lunger then made contact  with the burning Ferrari. Arturio Merzario reached into the cockpit to unbuckle the unconscius Lauda. Lunger, Ertl and Guy Edwards, who had stopped at the scene, dragged Lauda from the wreckage.

Niki Lauda suffered severe burns to his head and wrists as well as burnt lungs from inhaling toxic  fumes while still trapped in the car. For weeks Lauda hovered between life and death as specialists treated his injuries and applied dressings to whate

mained of the flesh around his face and wrists.  While many wondered if Niki Lauda would survive, he was desperate to defend his world champion crown. Ferrari had already brought Carlos Reutemann into the team for the Italian Grand Prix and were forced to add a third car for Lauda after he had announced his decision to return to racing.


Jackie Stewart, called Lauda’s return The most courageous event in the history of sport. He said:  Niki had a degree of bravery that I had never seen the like of before. After his tremendous accident, he was back just six weeks later. I remember seeing Niki put his helmet on, and his wounds were still absolutely obvious. I thought to myself that with all the vibrations you get in a Formula One car at Monza, one of the fastest tracks in the world, that this cant be right. To be brave enough to put on the helmet was amazing, but then he went out and qualified fifth. When he returned to the garage, he took his helmet off and I could see he was bleeding. Yet, the very next day, he raced.

The return kept Niki Lauda in sight of a second world championship at the final round at the Fuji Speedway in Japan.  Hunt started marginally ahead of Lauda on a miserably wet day, with streams of water running freely across parts of the circuit. Lauda lasted barely two laps before he stopped in the pits and walked away from his car. The decision all but handed the 1976 World Championship to James Hunt who drove to the title with a cautious 3rd placed finish.

It is not for me, Lauda explained to reporters at the track. “There are more things in life than a world championship.

Lauda’s relationship with Ferrari was never the same after that Sunday in Japan. Enzo Ferrari offered Lauda the role of team manager for the 1977 season, with Carlos Reutemann as the team’s number 1 driver. Niki Lauda responded by asking for a release from his Ferrari contract as he had been offered a deal to race with McLaren (which was a complete fabrication from Lauda). Ferrari relented and gave Lauda the second seat at Ferrari.

Lauda explained his strategy for the 1977 season: My first priority was to put Reutemann in his place and secure the number one spot at Ferrari, (Niki Lauda To Hell and Back 1986). By the third race of the season, this had been more or less accomplished  and I was able to concentrate all my efforts on pushing for technical progress, the Ferrari was no longer the fast car of years gone by, we only managed two pole positions in the season.

The Championship became a four way fight between Lauda in the Ferrari , James Hunt in a McLaren, Jodie Scheckter in the Wolf and Mario Andretti in the Lotus. Andretti won more races, though it was Lauda’s consistency of 10 podiums with 3 wins during the season that handed him the title with two races left to run.

Lauda felt that the trust between himself and Ferrari had been breached and he had stored this memory in his mind like a rogue elephant. Once the championship had been won at the US Grand Prix, Lauda sat out the final two races of the year.

Once I had secured the world championship for a second time, I didnt feel like putting up with the ridiculously strained atmosphere, so I declined to start in Canada and Japan, Lauda said. Enzo Ferrari was indeed put out and he tossed a few choice remarks my way.

Lauda moved to the Bernie Eccelstone owned Brabham organist ion for the 1978 season. The Gordon Murray designed car was innovative, though  the car suffered with the Alfa Romeo engine. Lauda explained the year in a rather unique way.

Everything would have gone a dream if we had a different engine. The 12 cylinder Alfa simply couldnt hack it, Niki said. We missed finishing race after race because of some nonsense or other, an oil seal defect or similar. I visited Chiti a couple of times in Milan and was always fascinated by the 40 or so stray dogs that ran around the workshop. He seemed to be looking after every stray in Milan. He fed them and had them checked out by a vet. All this care and attention didnt seem to apply to the engines that were being put together.

While Lauda enjoyed the more ‘normal’ relationship with Eccelstone and Murray at Brabham, the endless mechanical woes with the Alfa Romeo engine had taken its toll on Lauda’s racing resolve and a late season move to the Ford Cosworth V8 engine failed to reignite the spark.

During practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda came to the sudden realisation that he no longer wanted to drive around in circles. He approached Bernie Eccelstone and told him he was retiring. He immediately left the circuit with young Argentinian driver Riccardo Zunino drafted in to the drive. With no gear at the track he wore Lauda’s overalls and helmet. It wasn’t until Niki Lauda was on a flight back to Europe that the paddock realised that it wasn’t Lauda at the wheel of the Brabham.

Niki Lauda took his love of speed and machinery to new heights as he entered a new chapter of his life, away from Formula One. He became a commercial pilot and established his own airline. Lauda Air. The business began with turbo prop Fokker airplanes and then moved to jets with the Boeing 767. The company quickly gained a reputation for its service and the occasional privilege of having Niki Lauda as the captain of their flight.

Tragedy struck on 26 May 1991, when Lauda Air flight 004 from Bangkok to Austria crashed when the 767 automatically deployed reverse thrust mid flight. All 213 passengers and 10 crew were killed in the accident. Lauda pursued Boeing to admit fault and eventually succeeded after offering to fly a 767 over Boeing’s Seattle headquarters and  select reverse thrust. Boeing capitulated within hours.

If I make a mistake and die in a race car, tough luck, but the people who fly with me have the right to expect safe travel, Lauda explained as the reason behind his actions towards Boeing.

The airline suffered losses as a result of the accident and subsequent investigative processes, which some argue prompted Lauda’s return to racing.

Ron Dennis had been in regular contact with Niki throughout his retirement, and eventually coaxed him back for the 1982 season in  a Ford Cosworth powered car.  His contract included a review clause after three race as team sponsor Marlboro were concerned that the retirement may have dulled the Austrian’s talent.  Any doubts were put to rest when he won the third race of the season at Long Beach. He won again in Great Britain that year and finished the season in 5th. 1983 was a low point for Lauda and the team as they again ran the Ford Cosworth V8 engine, which proved to be uncompetitive against the new wave of turbo charged engines. Lauda pushed for the use of the TAG/Porsche engine with an interim chassis later in the year as the season slipped away from McLaren.

The move proved to be a master stroke as the late season introduction gave the team valuable testing miles in preparation for 1984, which saw the McLaren TAG/ Porsche machine run faster and more reliably than most of their opposition. Niki Lauda won 5 races to Alain Prost’s 7, with the championship decided by half a point in favour of Lauda.

1985 was Niki Lauda’s swan song as a Formula One driver and was somewhat of a disappointment for the highly
competitive Lauda, with just a single win at the Dutch Grand Prix. A crash in practice at the Belgium Grand Prix left Lauda with a broken wrist and forced him out of the following race at Brands Hatch. He led the last race of the year in Australia, only to nose into the wall late in the race after suffering from a brake failure .
He remained close to the sport in his latter years and undertook advisory roles with both Ferrari and Jaguar. Lauda was appointed nonexecutive chairman of the
Mercedes team in 2010 and remained active in the role until ongoing health issues took their toll.

Niki Lauda had undergone two kidney transplants, the first in 1997 and a second in 2005 when the original donor kidney, from his brother, failed. In August 2018 it was announced that Lauda was close to death with breathing difficulties and had undergone a lung transplant.  Further complications with his kidney saw him undertake dialysis until his final departure on 20th May 2019.  It may well have been the crash at the Nurburgring that ultimately claimed his life, but  it just took 40 years for it to catch up with this Austrian motorsport legend.


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