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Niki Lauda: The relentless perfectionist who never knew how to give up

Born in Austria in February 1949, Niki Lauda was a three-time world championship, an entrepreneur and an outspoken personality. The accident in Nurburgring changed everthing in his life. A look at Niki Lauda lifestory, biography and stats.

Abhranil Roy
Last updated: 21.05.2019
Niki Lauda | Sports Social Blog

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In the much-hyped and even more criticized final season of Game Of Thrones, fan favourite Arya Stark’s reply to “What do we say to the God Of Death?” was “Not Today”. This exchange sent the entire fandom to spin and was quoted by millions of brands and websites to perhaps make it a pinnacle of what the human spirit can accomplish. The show’s writers, would not be mistaken for probably drawing the inspiration for this line from the life of Formula One legend Niki Lauda, who had probably said the same to the God of Death in 1976 following his deadly crash at the Nurburgring circuit.

The Lauda spirit…

Born in Austria in February 1949, Lauda is perhaps only eclipsed by Ayrton Senna when it comes to international appeal in the sport of Formula One. He was a three-time world championship, an entrepreneur and an outspoken personality, who according to BBC’s obituary “lived a remarkable life in Technicolor”.  They are not wrong, he was so full of spirit and life that he continued to pilot planes into his 60s and was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2013 documentary “Rush”, which captured his iconic rivalry with James Hunt.


The Lauda v Hunt rivalry…

All great minds need their Kryptonite, with Federer having Nadal, Messi having Ronaldo, Senna having Prost and Lauda having Hunt. Their on-pitch rivalry captured the imagination of millions in the 70s, watching two champions of the sport fight tooth and nail in cars that accelerated at 200 kilometres per hour and on tracks that were filled with hairpins turns and with hardly any of the mandated safety services that are in place today. It was like watching two madmen go at each with ticking time-bombs in place, leaving everything at the hands of the Almighty.

Currently immortalized as “The Rush Rivalry”, Lauda and Hunt went head-to-head for about six years, although the opening two years i.e 1975 and 1976 were perhaps the most iconic ones. In 1975, Lauda walked away with the Championship title for Ferrari and Hunt was left biting the dust. In 1976, however, fortune favoured Hunt, although perhaps in a way that he would not want it to happen.

Nurburgring: The accident that changed everything…

Lauda started the 1976 season very strongly, winning four out of the opening six races. Ahead of the German Grand Prix on 1st August, where Lauda met with the fateful tragedy, he had asked his fellow drivers to boycott the race due to lack of safety arrangements on the 23 kilometre-long track. However, his warnings were not heeded by the FIA and the race went on.

As he was speeding down on the second lap on race day, Lauda took a hard left that sent his Ferrari into a wild spin and hit the embankment. It immediately burst into flames, sending panic down the pit stops. Lauda’s specially modified helmet had slipped off his face, exposing his face to the fire. He not only burnt himself badly but also inhaled toxic gases that did massive damage to his lungs and blood.

Despite being in a coma during most of his treatment, he missed only two races and was right back in the pitstop six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix, with a bandaged scalp and special helmet in place to protect his recovering body. It was a ghastly sight for anyone to behold, but it was a spectacle the like of which has probably never been seen in any sport, ever since. Here was a man who had almost lost his life a month back, whose last rites were read to him in the hospital by a priest, whose bandages were still dripping in blood and who still came back because he simply did not know how to quit.

The accident, however, did take a toll on Lauda as in his own words, he was petrified during his comeback race at Monza but still managed to come forth. James Hunt made the most of his absence and ended up winning the Championship by a single point that season. However, the remarkable comeback and the subsequent performances ensured that Lauda would be lauded for his fiery spirit, and rightly so.

Lauda’s later life…

Lauda won the Championship again with Ferrari in the next season itself and clinched another one in 1984 with McLaren. By then, he had also established himself as a successful businessman who owned his own airlines and was critical in bringing reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton to drive for Mercedes. He had a lung replacement surgery in 2018 and was suffering for a while. As per reports, he passed away peacefully on the morning of 21st May, thus bringing an end to his mortal life but his legacy will live on for as long as there is Formula One.

Rest in peace, Niki Lauda!

BBC Documentary on Niki Lauda

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