|Years||1971 - 1979, 1982 - 1985|
|Team(s)||March, BRM, Ferrari, Brabham, McLaren|
|Races||177 (171 starts)|
|Championships||3 (1975, 1977, 1984)|
|First race||1971 Austrian Grand Prix|
|First win||1974 Spanish Grand Prix|
|Last win||1985 Dutch Grand Prix|
|Last race||1985 Australian Grand Prix|
|Video||Lauder in an Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46 at Zolder|
Andreas Nikolaus "Niki" Lauda (born February 22, 1949 in Vienna) is an Austrian aviator, entrepreneur, former Formula One (F1) racing driver and three-time F1 World Champion. He has founded and run two airlines and was manager of the Jaguar Formula One racing team for two years.
Early years in racing
Born in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy family. His paternal grandfather, Juan Lauda Crespo, was from Galicia, Spain. Lauda became a racing driver despite his family's disapproval. After starting out with a Mini, Lauda moved on into Formula Vee, as was normal in Central Europe, but rapidly moved up to drive in private Porsche and Chevron sports cars. His career seemed to be going nowhere in particular until he took out a large bank loan, secured by a life insurance policy, to buy his way into the fledgling March team as a Formula 2 (F2) driver in 1971. He was quickly promoted to the F1 team and drove for March in both F1 and F2 in 1972. Although the F2 cars were good (and Lauda's test-driving skills impressed March principal Robin Herd), March's 1972 F1 season was catastrophic and Lauda, in despair, briefly contemplated drastic action but finally took out yet another bank loan to buy his way into the BRM team in 1973. Lauda was instantly quick but the team was in decline; 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, paying Niki enough to clear his debts.
After an unsuccessful start to the 1970s culminating in a disastrous start to the 1973 season, Ferrari regrouped completely under Luca Montezemolo and were resurgent in 1974. The team's 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 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 and demonstrated immense commitment to testing and improving the car.
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 in the new Ferrari 312T. 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. He also looked set to win the most races in a season, a record held by the late Jim Clark since 1963.
A turning point in his life was the second lap at the German GP at the long Nürburgring circuit. Lauda's car swerved off the track, due to a suspected rear suspension failure, hit an embankment and rolled back into the path of Brett Lunger's Surtees-Ford car. Lauda's car burst into flames, but, unlike Lunger, he was trapped in the wreckage. Drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards and Harald Ertl arrived at the scene a few moments later, but before they and Lunger were able to pull Lauda from his car, he suffered severe burns to his head and inhaled hot toxic gases that damaged his lungs and blood. Although Lauda was conscious and able to stand immediately after the accident, he later lapsed into a coma and a priest administered the last rites.
Lauda suffered extensive scarring from the burns, which became possibly his most famous attribute in the eyes of the public. He only had enough reconstructive surgery to get his eyelids to work properly, but never felt a need to do any more. Since the accident he wears a red cap to cover the scars on his head.
With Lauda out of the contest, Ferrari boycotted the Austrian GP in protest at what they saw a preferential treatment shown towards McLaren driver James Hunt at the Spanish and British GPs. Carlos Reutemann was even taken on as a potential replacement.
Lauda returned to race only six weeks (two races) later, finishing fourth in the Italian GP. In Lauda's absence, Hunt had reduced his lead in the World Championship standings. Following wins in the Canadian and United States GPs, Hunt stood only three points behind Lauda before the final race of the season, the Japanese GP.
Lauda qualified third, one place behind Hunt, but on race day there was torrential rain and 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. In spite of this, Lauda's move is seen as one of the bravest examples in motor racing.
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.
Brabham, retirement, comeback with McLaren and a second retirement
Having joined Brabham in 1978 for a $1 million salary, Lauda endured two unsuccessful seasons, notable mainly for his one race in the Brabham BT46B, a radical design known as the Fan Car: it won its first race and was then promptly banned. At the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda informed Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone that he wished to retire immediately, 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.
Needing money to shore up his new business, 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 won a third world championship in 1984 by half a point over teammate Alain Prost, due to only half points being awarded for the shortened 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. His Austrian Grand Prix victory that year is the most recent time an Austrian has won his home Grand Prix.
1985 was a poor season for Lauda, with thirteen retirements from the sixteen races. He did manage 4th at the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix, 5th at the 1985 German Grand Prix, and a single race win at the 1985 Dutch Grand Prix. This proved to be his last Grand Prix victory and also the last Formula One Grand Prix held in the Netherlands. He retired for good at the end of that season.
Life after F1
Lauda returned to running his airline, Lauda Air, on his second Formula One retirement in 1985. During his time as airline manager, he was appointed consultant at Ferrari as part of an effort by Montezemolo to rejuvenate the team. Ousted from his airline by boardroom politics after a sale to majority partner Austrian Airlines in 1999, he managed the Jaguar Formula One racing team from 2001 to 2002. In late 2003, he started a new airline, Niki. Lauda holds a commercial pilot's license and from time to time acts as a captain on the flights of his airline.
He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993. Since 1996 his comments on Formula One are widely quoted in the motorsport press, and he provides commentary for Austrian and German television coverage RTL. 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 has written four books: The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving (1975); My Years With Ferrari (1978); The New Formula One: A Turbo Age (1984); and an autobiography, Meine Story (titled To Hell and Back in some markets) (1986). Lauda credits Austrian journalist Herbert Volker with editing the books.
Lauda is sometimes known by the rather uncomplimentary nickname "the rat" or "SuperRat", for his prominent buck teeth. He has been associated with both Parmalat and Viessmann, sponsoring his ever faithful 'cappy' from 1976 onwards, used to hide the severe burns he sustained in his 1976 accident. Lauda admitted in a 2009 interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit that an advertiser currently pays €1.2m for the space on his famous red cap.
In 2008, American sports television network ESPN ranked him 22nd on their top drivers of all-time.
Lauda had two sons with his first wife, Marlene: Mathias, a racing driver himself, and Lukas, his brother's manager. They divorced in 1991. He also has an illegitimate son, Christoph. He remarried in 2008, and it has been reported that his second wife Birgit is pregnant with their first children, a son and a daughter, expected for the month of October 2009.
Complete Formula One results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position, races in italics indicate fastest lap)