Here is a pensive Niki Lauda before his home Austrian Grand Prix on August 12, 1979. Lauda’s face clearly shows the terrible injuries he received in the fiery crash of his Ferrari at the Nürburgring during the German Grand Prix three years before. It was thought at the time that Lauda would not survive, so serious were his burns. However, he made an astounding recovery and returned to Grand Prix competition some six weeks later, only losing the Championship to McLaren driver James Hunt by a single point in the final race of the 1976 season. Niki Lauda is a three times World Champion, earning the title in 1975, 1977 and 1984, the last two after his near-death crash in Germany.
In his Grand Prix career, Lauda first drove for Max Mosley’s March team in 1971 and then went on to drive for BRM and Ferrari, where he was when he won his first Championship in 1975. In 1977, again driving for Ferrari, Lauda won the title he had lost so closely the year before. Then it was on to drive for Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team, beginning a strong association with Formula 1’s controversial leader that has continued to this day. Lauda then retired to run an airline he had started, but the call of Grand Prix racing drew him back to McLaren in 1982 where he partnered with Alain Prost whom he closely defeated for the Championship in 1984.
Following his retirement from driving in 1985, Lauda has remained very close to the Grand Prix circus, having held Formula 1 advisory roles with Ferrari, Jaguar and, currently, Mercedes-Benz where he acts as non-executive Chairman of their F1 team. Later this year the new film “Rush” will be released which tells the story of that terrible and exciting 1976 Grand Prix season and the competition between Lauda and Hunt.
Niki Lauda, now 64, retains his strong cynicism, limitless self-confidence and sharp tongue.
Photo by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection