Last month we lost a true legend in the sport. Niki Lauda. This man not only was one of the best race car drivers in the world, he was an innovator of the sport, constantly pushing to make the cars faster, but always striving to make the sport safer. He was one of the most successful F1 drivers in the history of the sport.
It was with a heavy heart I first read he had passed away. He was an icon and hero to me in so many ways. He was not just one of the most calculated engineering type mined racecar drivers, but a loyal husband and business entrepreneur. He will be leaving a legacy behind that cultivates the best in the spirit of racing.
Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda was an Austrian Formula One driver, a 3 time F1 World Drivers Champion, and an aviation entrepreneur. He was born in 1949 in Vienna Austria to a very wealthy family known for being economists and businessmen; not racing car drivers. He started his racing career behind the wheel of a Mini and quickly moved into Formula V and excelled up through the different formula racing tiers. His first races in F1 actually came through March racing team where he raced Formula 2 and Formula 1. He ended up taking out a bank loan and buying his way onto the BRM Formula One team. This is where the movie RUSH really picks up and does an incredible job telling his story and rivalry with James Hunt, a British racecar driver.
Throughout his carrier Niki raced for March, BRM, Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren, in Formula 1 as well as BMW in the Procar Championship. With all of the teams, Niki was victroious, and is still the only driver to have won with both McLaren and Ferrari in F1. in 1976, however, Niki was not so lucky. A week before the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring Lauda encouraged his fellow drivers to boycott the race due to safety issues on the track; even though he was the fastest around the circuit. A week later during the second lap, Lauda was involved in an accident where his Ferrari swerved off the track, hit an embankment, burst into flames, and made contact with Brett Lunger’s Surtees-Ford car. Unlike Lunger, Lauda was trapped in the wreckage. Drivers Arturo Merzario, Lunger, Guy Edwards, and Harald Ertl arrived at the scene a few moments later, but before Merzario was able to pull Lauda from his car, he suffered severe burns to his head and inhaled toxic fumes that damaged his lungs and blood. As Lauda was wearing a modified helmet because it didn’t fit him properly, the foam had compressed and it slid off his head after the accident, leaving his face exposed to the fire.
Lauda suffered extensive scarring from the burns to his head, losing most of his right ear as well as the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows, and his eyelids. He chose to limit reconstructive surgery to replacing the eyelids and getting them to work properly. After the accident he always wore a cap to cover the scars on his head. Despite this horrific accident, Niki continued to race and continued to win with multiple different race teams namely McLaren.
He has inspired many, including myself, to become a more driven person, not only in racing but in life. Niki, you will surely be missed.