Niki Lauda died age 70

Niki Lauda  - Il pilota vincera la gara

Niki Lauda - Il pilota vincera la gara


Vienna, 21 May, 2019 

Niki Lauda (22.02.1949 – 20.05.2019)

The world of motorsport has lost one of its most revered characters with the passing of Niki Lauda. Although he came from a wealthy background, his family were totally against him becoming a racing driver, so he had to do it without any financial help from them, and took out personal loans to get on the ladder to F1. His big break came in 1973 when he was driving for BRM, a team then on a downward spiral, as his then team mate Clay Regazzoni was leaving to drive for Ferrari in 1974. Apparently Enzo Ferrari asked Regazzoni what he thought of Lauda’s driving abilities, and he was complimentary, thus he also signed to drive for Ferrari in the 1974 season, finishing 2nd in his first race for the team, and scoring his first Grand Prix win in Spain. Although he achieved six consecutive pole positions that year there was only one more win in the Dutch Grand Prix, mainly due to reliability problems.

He was probably the first of what one might call an “engineer driver” as he immersed himself in the testing and development of the cars, which reaped rewards during the 1975 season, resulting in five Grand Prix wins on his way to becoming Drivers’ World Champion. The 1976 season started really well for him, winning four of the first six races and finishing 2nd in the other two. However, as is well known he then suffered terrible fiery accident in the German Grand Prix where he almost lost his life through smoke inhalation of toxic fumes, even being given the last rights. Miraculously he survived, and despite his facial burns being heavily bandaged, he was back racing again 6 weeks later in the Italian Grand Prix where he finished 4th despite being in severe discomfort from his still healing burns. He only lost the championship to James Hunt in the last race of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix, held in torrential rain, retiring as he deemed it too dangerous to continue. The story of this Lauda-Hunt duel that season was made into a film “Rush” in 2013. It is said that the decision to retire in Japan soured his relationship with Enzo Ferrari, but he still drove for Ferrari for the 1977, and won his second World Drivers’ Championship. He then drove for the Brabham team for two years before announcing his retirement just before the end of 1979 season. He returned to F1 with the McLaren team between 1982 and 1985, winning his third Drivers’ World Championship with them in 1984, and then retiring completely after the 1985 season.

Apart from his undoubted skills at the wheel of a racing car he was also a successful businessman, operating three airlines over the years, he was Jaguar F1 team manager, acted as a consultant to the Ferrari F1 team for a lengthy period, and was a non-executive director of the Mercedes F1 team at the time of his passing. He was also a F1 race commentator for both Austrian and German television, and known for his “no holds barred” opinions. Despite having had two kidney transplants and more recently a lung transplant, he survived, but finally succumbed at the University Hospital in Zurich, while undergoing dialysis treatment for the recurring kidney problems. The world of motor sport is a poorer place with his passing, but his determination, courage in adversity and driving ability will ensure that his memory will last for a long, long time, may he rest in peace.

Keith Bluemel