A tribute to the late F1 driver in Niki Lauda: A Phoenix rising from the ashes
Born on February 22, 1949, Niki Lauda would have celebrated his 72nd birthday on Monday.
The Austrian made his F1 debut in the Austrian round of the 1971 F1 world championship and drove for the STP March Racing Team before moving to BRM (British Racing Motors) two years later.
It would take four years before Lauda got to place his hands around the F1 drivers trophy for the first time, in 1975, after a year settling in at Ferrari.
However, Lauda will most likely be remembered as the driver who survived the near-fatal crash at the Nurburgring in 1976.
Although he was not classified in the 1971 and 1972 seasons, Lauda finally got his name on the drivers standings in 1973.
He picked up his only two points at the Belgian Grand Prix that year and finished 17th in the drivers standings, behind Wilson Fittipaldi (16th) and ahead of Gian-Claudio Giuseppe [Clay] Regazzoni (18th).
However, the following season Lauda signed with the famous Ferrari team in 1974 where he would spend four seasons at the Prancing Horse. This move saw a significant shift in the Austrian’s drivers standings as he finished fourth in his first season for Ferrari, with 38 points.
In his first championship-winning season, 1975, the Austrian only failed to score points in two races (Spain – collison and Great Britain – finished 8th, outside the points) and won the season with 19.5 points more than Emerson Fittipaldi (second).
On the fateful day (August 1, 1976) which nearly ended Lauda’s life early, James Hunt – later crowned drivers champion that season – was lined up on pole for McLaren after securing a lap time of 7:06.500, ahead of the Ferrari driver in second.
However, despite a drivers meeting to stop the race it still went ahead. Due to wet weather many teams opted for wet tyres.
With a deadly mix of wet conditions and the treacherous track, Lauda’s Ferrari veered off the asphalt and hit an earth bank on the right side, this caused his iconic red race car to burst into flames and bounce back onto the track.
Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger were both unfortunate to hit Lauda’s flaming car, they then joined Arturo Merzario, working to get the Austrian out of the burning car and to safety.
After the horrific crash, Lauda was reportedly upset as a priest had given him his ‘last rites’ in hospital. However, the Austrian only missed two other races after the incident and returned for the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, where he finished fourth.
After retiring his car, out of choice, at the 1976 season finale at the Japanese Fuji International Speedway, he lost the championship by a single point (68) to Hunt, who won with 69 points.
Despite his injuries which related back to his blazing Ferrari, Lauda went on to win the following season in 1977 and 1984, in a McLaren.
After he finished racing in F1, he later went on to become an adviser for Ferrari, a Team Principal at Jaguar and a TV commentator.
Before he passed, in 2013 Lauda became a Non-Executive Chairman of Mercedes’ F1 team and helped steer the Brackley outfit to glory. However, the legend passed away on May 20, 2019 at the age of 70.
All of the teams and drivers paid tribute to the late former world champion at Monaco in the 2019 F1 season and Mercedes opted to use a red halo to represent their late teammate.
We hope you enjoyed our tribute piece to the late F1 driver in Niki Lauda: A Phoenix rising from the ashes! In your opinion, what is the one of Lauda’s most iconic moments in F1? Let us know in the comments!
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