From 1971 to 1985, the world of Formula 1—the pinnacle of motorsport and automotive technology—was graced by the presence of Niki Lauda.
Andreas Nikolaus Lauda got his start racing Minis, despite disapproval from his family. Defying their wishes, Niki took out a bank loan to buy his way into the March Formula 2 team, which promptly got promoted to Formula 1 in 1972. With little hope of being competitive, Niki took out another loan to buy his way into the BRM team, where his talent at setting up cars and his bluntness about his own driving skill caught the eye of teammate Clay Reggazoni. When Reggazoni was signed by Ferrari and Enzo inquired about Niki, favourable comments by Niki’s former teammate landed him a spot in the declining Ferrari team in 1974.
Over the 1975 season, Lauda cemented his spot at the legendary Italian team—lapping the fearsome Nurburgring Nordschleife in under seven minutes and securing his first world title. On 1 August 1976, at Nurburgring, Lauda’s Ferrari skidded off the track, hit an embankment and burst into flames—fellow drivers managed to pull him out of the burning inferno, but not before Lauda suffered first degree burns to his face, as well as damage to his lungs and blood from toxic fumes. Lauda showed immense determination and returned to racing after only six weeks, having missed only two races. He retired from the Japanese Grand Prix—the final race of the F1 calendar—and handed the championship to his longtime friend and rival James Hunt of McLaren. Their friendship became the stuff of legend, and the silver screen.
The quiet Austrian was prone to moments of sheer fierceness—from brushing off the outreached hands of death, to defying il Commendatore to have his way with Ferrari—Niki was a tour de force in one of the best eras of Formula 1. He will be missed.