Remembering Niki Lauda, who made his F1 debut at the predecessor of the Red Bull Ring

Remembering Niki Lauda, who made his F1 debut at the predecessor of the Red Bull Ring

On Monday, May 20, it will be five years since the legendary three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda passed away. The Vienna-born driver was known for his unique personality and was never afraid to speak his mind, even to notable figures like Enzo Ferrari.

Niki Lauda’s career, at least up to 1976, was masterfully depicted in the 2013 movie Rush, which focused on the 1976 season when Lauda almost lost his life. The news of the fiery crash at the Nürburgring spread worldwide, and from the German Grand Prix in August onwards, anyone who hadn’t known about motorsport before certainly knew who Niki Lauda was.

The Austrian debuted in Formula 1 in 1971, coincidentally at his home Grand Prix in Austria at the Österreichring, now known as the Red Bull Ring. He drove for the March team and qualified in the second-to-last position. He didn’t finish the race and returned to Formula 1 a year later. Despite his speed, he had to pay for his seat, not immediately impressing team bosses in F1. Lauda had to spend a lot to secure his place in the world of grand prix racing.

By 1973, he was still relatively unknown, racing for the British team BRM. The real surprise came when Luca di Montezemolo took over Scuderia Ferrari and signed Lauda for the 1974 season alongside the experienced Clay Regazzoni. Lauda was slightly faster than his Swiss teammate from the start. However, a series of five unfinished races at the end of the season meant Regazzoni, not Lauda, fought for the title with Emerson Fittipaldi—and lost.

But 1975 was all Lauda’s year. Five victories secured him the championship before the season ended. In 1976, he was on his way to defending his title until the Nürburgring accident, which should sideline him for the rest of the season. He was lucky to survive. Despite doctors‘ advice and with unhealed burns, he was back in the Ferrari cockpit just six weeks after the crash. His immense determination drove him back, and though he didn’t win the title that year, he clinched it the following season. By then, he had a falling out with Enzo Ferrari and moved to Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team.

He stayed with Brabham team for two seasons. However, he grew tired of racing and announced his retirement. He enjoyed life away from grand prix racing until Ron Dennis, who had taken over the McLaren team, persuaded the two-time champion to return. The pragmatic Lauda couldn’t resist. He stood atop the podium again and won his third title in 1984. Competing against his faster teammate Alain Prost was challenging, but Lauda narrowly beat him by half a point—the closest points finish in F1 history.

Lauda’s final F1 season was in 1985, after which he took on advisory roles for various teams. He was an advisor at Ferrari, briefly led the Jaguar F1 team, and eventually joined Mercedes in 2012, playing a key role in signing Lewis Hamilton. He stayed with Mercedes until his death in 2019. The three-time F1 champion remains in the hearts of many to this day.

Foto: Ferrari, Mercedes