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Remembering Niki Lauda: 5 facts about the F1 legend

Niki Lauda at the Laureus World Sports Awards, Berlin. Photo: Getty Images
Niki Lauda at the Laureus World Sports Awards, Berlin. Photo: Getty Images
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Modified 23 Feb 2021
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Niki Lauda's life was full of trials and tribulations, but he still managed to leave behind an exceptional legacy.

Born in 1949, legendary Formula One driver Niki Lauda would have celebrated his 72nd birthday today. The three-time champion, who passed away in 2019, is renown for a comeback so heroic that Hollywood saw fit to make a movie about it.

To honor the extraordinary life of Niki Lauda on his birthday, here are some important facts about the Austrian legend.

1. His affluent family refused to support his dream of becoming a race car driver

Nicholas Andreas Lauda was born into an affluent Austrian family. In fact, he was the grandson of Viennese-born industrialist Hans Lauda. However, this fortune was of no use to Niki as his family disapproved of his ambition to become a race car driver and refused to fund his dreams.

Instead of shattering his spirit, this event further strengthened Niki Lauda's determination. He proceeded to fund his destiny on his own by securing multiple bank loans.

#2. His deal with Ferrari in 1974 ended his financial troubles

Niki Lauda driving a Ferrari 312B/3 during the Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, 1974.
Niki Lauda driving a Ferrari 312B/3 during the Race of Champions, Brands Hatch, 1974.

After taking out a £30,000 bank loan against his life insurance, Niki Lauda bought a seat in March's Formula Two and Formula One teams in 1971. When that failed to bring him any success, a desperate Lauda managed to join British Racing Motors (BRM) in 1973, which further increased his debt.

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Fortunately, his performance with BRM caught the eye of Enzo Ferrari, who had recently acquired Niki Lauda's erstwhile BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni. Upon hearing positive remarks about Lauda from Regazzoni, Ferrari bought the Austrian racer out of his contract in 1974 and cleared his debts.

#3. After his near-fatal accident, a priest administered his last rites

Lauda (right) with Harald Ertl during the Italian Grand Prix, 1976.
Lauda (right) with Harald Ertl during the Italian Grand Prix, 1976.

Racing at the treacherous 14-mile Nurburgring circuit during the 1976 German Grand Prix, Niki Lauda lost control over a rise and the car hit an embankment, bursting into flames. While some drivers, including Harald Ertl, managed to pull him out of the wreckage, Lauda ended up in a coma due to severe injuries and lung damage. His condition was so bad that a priest administered his last rites in a German hospital.

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Miraculously, he survived and was back in action within weeks at the Italian GP, where he finished fourth. His heroic comeback enabled him to get a three-point lead over his arch-rival and good friend James Hunt before the season's final race. But due to heavy rain, Lauda withdrew from the race.

#4. His relationship with Ferrari ended on a sour note

Prince Rainier III of Monaco (C) and Princess Grace (L) presenting the Monaco Grand Prix trophy to Niki Lauda in 1975
Prince Rainier III of Monaco (C) and Princess Grace (L) presenting the Monaco Grand Prix trophy to Niki Lauda in 1975

Lauda was part of Ferrari from 1974 to 1977, during which time, he won two world championships. However, following his decision to retire from the 1976 season finale at Fuji due to the rain, Ferrari planned to demote him to the number two driver position, which angered the Austrian immensely.

In order to make his resentment known, he won the championship with two races remaining, and left Ferrari without participating in the last two rounds. Then, he joined Brabham-Alfa Romeo in 1978, which received a sharp reaction from Enzo, who called him a traitor for joining Bernie Ecclestone's team.

#5. He gave away his trophies for free car washes

Reacting to Lewis Hamilton's 'ugly' F1 trophy comment in 2015, Niki Lauda supported his views and revealed that he himself had given away his trophies (including the ones from his 25 Grands Prix wins) to his local garageman in exchange for a lifetime of free car washes.

Unfortunately, the man died and the trophies ended up on eBay. Furthermore, Lauda had to keep paying for his car wash!

Published 22 Feb 2021, 20:02 IST
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