With Niki Lauda’s death, Formula One lost one of its most legendary drivers. We take a look at some of the most important destinations of his life which included many ups and downs, successes and battles, feud and glamour.
Aged 70, Niki Lauda died in his sleep last Monday. The Austrian won many battles during his life, but he lost the last one. After he had undergone a lung transplant last August, he did not make any public appearances. Nine months after the successful operation, he had been undergoing dialysis treatment at the University Hospital of Zürich where he passed away peacefully, surrounded by family members.
Although Niki Lauda was born to a wealthy family, he did not get any support from his own family on his way towards Formula One. In fact, his family wanted to drive him away from this dangerous sport. Despite to the family’s will, the Austrian started racing with a Mini, then moved into Formula Vee before moving up to drive in Porsche and Chevron sports cars.
As he wanted to take another step forward, he had to take out a bank loan to buy his way into Formula Two. For the 1971 season, he secured a seat at the March team and started at ten F2 events. He took part in his first ever Formula One Grand Prix that year when got a chance from the March squad to start in his home Austrian Grand Prix. This first ever appearance at the pinnacle of motorsport did not bring the desired success as he failed to complete the race distance. However, the next season saw Lauda step up into Formula One.
Lauda took part in a total of 171 Formula One races. During his career, he won three world championships. He secured 25 race victories and stood on the podium on 54 occasions. The Austrian set the fastest race lap in 24 races and he secured a total of 24 pole positions.
His career streched over 13 seasons. His very first appearance in a race weekend was the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix while he ended his career in the 1985 Australian Grand Prix. His time in Formula One included a two-year-long pause as he retired from the sport at the end of the 1979 season, but his hunger for racing lured him back into racing two years later.
The Vienna-born driver took his first Grand Prix victory at the 1974 Spanish Grand Prix, driving for Ferrari while his last win came at the 1985 Dutch Grand Prix.
Lauda raced for five different outfits. He kicked off his Grand Prix career with March, and spent a one-year-long spell at BRM in 1973. In the following year, he joined Ferrari. After spending four seasons with the Italian team, he joined Brabham for the forthcoming two championship campaigns. At the end of 1979, Lauda left the sport, but returned to the scene with McLaren in 1982 to complete four other seasons.
The three-time world champion secured his first two titles with Ferrari. In 1975, Lauda collected a total of 64.5 points to beat the leading driver of the McLaren-Ford team, Emerson Fittipaldi. In 1977, his tally of 72 points lifted him to the top of the championship and helped him to win the title in front of Wolf-Ford driver Jody Scheckter. Lauda beat his team-mate Alain Prost by half a point at the end of the 1984 season to take his third and final title with McLaren.
Niki Lauda’s parents, Ernst-Peter and Elisabeth Lauda belonged to Austria’s leading citizens. The family earned its wealth from the paternal grandfather, Hans Lauda who built a papermaking empire. The partens were reluctant to support their son, they wanted him to take over the familiy’s business. However, Lauda, aged 14, drove his uncle’s BMWs on the yard of the paper mill before taking apart Volkswagen cars. He then took out a bank loan at 18 years of age to buy a Mini Cooper which has paved his road to motorsport.
Arturo Merzario is one of the key people in Lauda’s life. The Italian racing driver was the one who pulled the Austrian out of his flaming Ferrari during the 1976 German Grand Prix.
Marlene Knaus was Lauda’s first wife. The pair got married in 1976, the year of the Austrian’s horrific accident at the Nürburgring and their marriage lasted until 1991. They have two sons: Lukas and Mathias. The latter became a racing driver and has tested his skills in a series of racing series, including Formula 3000, GP2, DTM, A1GP, Porsche SuperCup, Nascar. In the past years, he turned his focus to sports cars and has started in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the last four years.
Florian Lauda donated a kidney to his brother in 1997. However, this kidney failed in 2005. Lauda got to know Birgit Wetzinger, a flight attendant for his airline who donated a kidney to the Austrian that year. The pair then got married in 2008 and Birgit gave birth to twins in 2009.
Niki Lauda had a passion for airplanes. He was licensed commercial pilot and founded his own airline in 1979. As he retired from the sport at the end of that year, he had time to focus on his new company. However, he retured to racing two years later which forced him to take a step back from his business. After his second and final retirement from the sport, Lauda fully focused on Lauda Air.
In 1991, one of his airplanes, which was a regularly scheduled international passanger flight between Thailand and Austria, crashed down, killing 213 passengers and 10 crew members. Lauda flew to the scene immediately and was personally involved in the accident investigation. He sold his first company to the Austrian Airlines in 1999. Niki Lauda founded his second airline, named Niki, in 2003. Air Berlin bought the shares of the company in 2011. Lauda could not live without being involved in aviation and took over the shares of the Amira Air company in 2016. He renamed it LaudaMotion and
In 1993, the three-time world champion returned to Formula One after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo offered him a consulting role. Lauda assumed the role of team principal for the Jaguar team during the 2001 season. The management expected Lauda to bring success immediately, but the team failed to lift its performance substantially, and the Austrian left the team at the end of the 2002 season.
In September 2012, he bought a ten per cent stake in the Mercedes AMG Petronas Team and was appointed non-executive chairman of the Anglo-German outfit.