Born in Vienna, Austria, on February 22nd 1949, Niki Lauda had an exceptional career and life, one that was filled with twists and turns, just like a Formula One circuit. Born in to a wealthy business family, Lauda’s parents disapproved of his desire to become a racer. The unyielding bloke that he was, he decided to buy his way into racing. Racing for private racing teams in Central Europe, his career took a positive step when he again bought his way into Formula 2, racing for March. He was soon promoted to Formula One and raced for March in both Formula One and Formula 2.
His early years in Formula One with the March team were anything but impressive. With many retirements and never finishing in the points when he did complete a race, he used monetary force yet again, to buy himself a seat in the BRM team in 1973. It was a season filled with retirements with him finishing in the points only once, at Spa. But despite all of this, Enzo Ferrari wanted him for his team in 1974. And unsurprisingly, Lauda used the money from Ferrari, to break his two year deal with BRM.
Ferrari hadn’t won a title since John Surtees in 1964, and their campaign with Lauda started positively. The 1974 Spanish Grand Prix saw the Austrian record his first ever race win. Pocketing another win along with three more podiums, he finished 4th in the standings that season. The following year, in only his second year at Ferrari, Lauda won his first Drivers’ Championship, and also got Ferrari the Constructors’ championship. With five race wins that year, he finished twenty points ahead of defending world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
1976 started of just as well as the previous season ended. Mid way through the season, a second championship seemed imminent. That was until his horrific accident in the German Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring.
Lauda’s car veered of the track and burst into flames, giving him broken bones and third degree burns. The doctors had given up hope, and a priest even administered the last rites. Six weeks later he finished 4th
in the Italian Grand Prix. The title went down to the last race of the season in Japan. But a torrential race made for dangerous driving conditions, and Lauda who had already had a brush with death five races earlier, retired from the race, allowing friend and title contender James Hunt to win the championship by a mere point.
His retirement from the Japanese Grand Prix of 1976 caused his relationship with Ferrari to sour. He won the Drivers’ championship in 1977, but still left the team acrimoniously with two races to go, after having confirmed the title in the United States Grand Prix that year.
After Ferrari, Lauda moved on to the Bernie Ecclestone owned Brabham, where he won only two races in the next two years. He then decided to quit Formula One racing and went on to start his own airline business. But when the two time world champion realized he needed more money to run his airline, he signed a then record five million dollar deal, to race with McLaren, in 1982. From then on till 1985, Lauda won eight races with McLaren, and secured his third Drivers’ Championship in 1984. At the end of 1985, he called it quits again, but this time it was for good.
After quitting the sport while still at the top of his game, the Austrian returned to his airline business. But then he could not stay away from Formula One for long. He worked as a consultant for Ferrari, and even managed the Jaguar Formula One team for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Lauda has long been considered as Destiny’s Child. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he bought his way into the game, and even managed to cheat death, not something many other drivers could boast of doing in those days. But with lady luck only doing so much, it was his near perfect racing prowess that saw him win three world championships, a feat not many in the Formula One hall of fame have achieved.
-Rohhan A Divanji