The news that three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda had passed away at the age of 70 will be spreading sadness throughout the world of motorsport this morning.
Lauda’s story is, quite literally, Hollywood-like in its twists and turns, triumphs and tragedy.
Like any public figure he had his fans and detractors, but nobody can, or ever will, take away from the facts of his unique place in motorsport history. It’s not just the three World titles, but the manner in which he won them, the grit, resilience, bravery, skill and pure, raw speed it took to climb to the top three times in a tumultuous decade of success were, and will remain, legendary.
Before we get into his towering F1 achievements it’s entirely appropriate here to remember that one of Lauda’s earliest on track successes came in a ’24 Hour’ race, taking the win at the Nürburgring in 1973 in a race that, with the looming fuel crisis, saw two 8-hour segments, with an overnight 8 hour gap.
The win came in an Alpina BMW 3.0 CSL together with Hans-Peter Joisten, this a period in his career when Lauda competed regularly in sports and touring car machinery (pic above from that year’s 6-hour race where the same duo topped their class and finished third overall).
There were 25 F1 Grand Prix wins, a further 29 appearances on the podium, 24 pole positions and 24 Fastest laps over a 14 year F1 driving career that included a two-year gap, after early efforts with March and BRM success came in a hurry when Ferrari came calling.
Two title wins for Ferrari (1975 and 1977) were interrupted by the events of the 1976 season, dramatised and immortalised by the movie ‘Rush’ which chronicled the tests and turns of Lauda’s near-death experience at the Nürburgring, and his astonishing fight back that on-so nearly saw him take the title against his friend and rival James Hunt.
To return once again and take the title the following year was a further feat of astounding resilience, a move to Brabham seeing further race wins (and in tandem the inaugural BMW Procar title in 1979), before a two-year step back from the sport to concentrate on his airline business.
All too soon though he was back, this time to McLaren and after two seasons there the scene was set for another of the great duels of Grand Prix racing, 1984 and the twist and turns of a season that saw Lauda take the title by just half a point from team-mate Alain Prost.
After the finally stepped away from the driving seat at the end of 1985 there were consultative and management roles with Ferrari, Jaguar and latterly with the all-conquering Mercedes F1 outfit together with further airline and media roles.
Lauda’s achievements will never be forgotten, a man worthy of the often misused descriptor: hero. DSC mourns his passing along with the rest of the extended motorsport family and would like to pass on our condolences to his family, and in particular to son Mathias, a long-time member of the WEC ‘family’ and to his brother and manager Lukas.