Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda

22/2/1949

Entrepreneur, former Formula 1 (F1) racing driver and three-time F1 World Champion. Born into a wealthy family, Lauda became a racing driver despite his family's disapproval. He joined the fledgling March team as a Formula 2 (F2) driver in 1971 and drove in both F1 and F2 for them in 1972 before joining BRM in 1973. His big break came when his BRM team-mate Clay Regazzoni rejoined Ferrari in 1974 and team owner Enzo Ferrari asked him what he thought of Lauda. Regazzoni spoke favourably of Lauda, so Ferrari promptly went and signed him. Ferrari years 1974-1977 Having spent the early 1970s in the F1 doldrums, Ferrari were resurgent in 1974 and their faith in the little-known Lauda was quickly rewarded by a second-place finish in his début race for the team, the season-opening Argentine Grand Prix. His first Grand Prix (GP) victory – and the first for Ferrari since 1972 – followed only three races later in Spain. Although Lauda in his Ferrari 312 became the season's pacesetter, achieving six consecutive pole positions, a mixture of inexperience and mechanical unreliability meant Lauda won only one more race that year, the Dutch GP. He finished fourth in the Drivers' Championship. The 1975 F1 season started slowly for Lauda, but after nothing better than a fifth-place finish in the first four races he then won four out of the next five races. His first World Championship was confirmed with a fifth win at the last race of the year, the United States GP. Unlike 1975, Lauda dominated the start of the 1976 F1 season, winning four of the first six races and finishing second in the other two. By the time of his fifth win of the year at the British GP, he had more than double the points of his closest challenger Jody Scheckter and a second consecutive World Championship appeared a formality. It would be a feat not achieved since Jack Brabham's victories in 1959 and 1960. In the next race, however, the German GP at the long Nürburgring circuit, disaster struck. On the second lap of the race, Lauda's car swerved off the track, hit an embankment and rolled back into the path of Brett Lunger's Surtees-Ford car. Lauda suffered severe injuries, including horrific burns. Englishman Guy Edwards was later awarded a Queen's Gallantry Medal for his bravery shown during Lauda's rescue. Near death, he was administered the last rites by a priest. Despite this he made a miraculous return to the cockpit just six weeks after his accident and sensationally finished 4th at the Italian Grand Prix. In his enforced absence Englishman James Hunt had slashed his points lead, and heading into the final race of the year, the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway Lauda held a slim 3 point advantage over Hunt. In dangerously wet conditions Lauda retired after 2 laps, stating that he felt it was unsafe to continue under these conditions. Hunt led much of the race before a late puncture dropped him down the order. He recovered to 3rd, thus winning the title by a single point. Lauda's previously good relationship with Ferrari was severely affected by his decision to withdraw from the race, and he endured a difficult 1977 season, despite easily winning the championship through consistency rather than outright pace. Having announced his decision to quit Ferrari at season's end, Lauda left early due to the team's decision to run the then unknown Gilles Villeneuve in a third car at the Canadian Grand Prix. Having joined Brabham in 1978, Lauda endured two unsuccessful seasons, notable mainly for his one race in a radical design which used fan-assisted aerodynamics. The vehicle won its only race and was then promptly banned. At the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda informed Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone that he wished to retire immedieately, as he had no more desire to "drive around in circles". Lauda, who had founded a charter airline, returned to Austria to run the company full-time. But in 1982 Lauda returned to racing, feeling that he still had a career in Formula One. After a successful test with McLaren, the only problem was in convincing then team sponsor Marlboro that he was still capable of winning. Lauda proved he was still quite capable when, in his third race back, he won the Long Beach Grand Prix. Lauda would win a third world championship in 1984 by one-half point over teammate Alain Prost. He returned to running his airline, Lauda Air, on his retirement in 1985. Ousted by boardroom politics after a sale to majority partner Austrian Airlines in 1999, he managed the Jaguar Formula One racing team 2001-2002. In late 2003, he started a new airline, Niki. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993. As a driver, Lauda was renowned for his clear-headed approach to driving, minimising risk whilst maximising results, and ruthless self-interest. Lauda is considered one of the most accomplished test drivers in the sport, often working long hours refining his car's performance. Niki Lauda is the author of four books; The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving (1975), My Years With Ferrari (1977), The New Formula One: A Turbo Age (1984), and Meine Story (1986). Lauda credits Austrian journalist Herbert Volker with editing the books. Lauda is sometimes known by the rather uncomplimentary nickname "the rat".

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