The passing of Niki Lauda on Monday 20 May only goes to underline everything that he achieved in life. He was a three-time Formula 1 world champion and an idol for an entire generation, to whom he gave a reborn Ferrari in the mid 1970s. He was a man who had a second life, following the fiery accident at the Nurburgring on 1 August 1976 that so nearly claimed him. Niki lived all his lives looking for change, alternating his career as a champion driver and airline executive. From one thing straight to the next. And from 2012 to now, he was non-executive director of the Mercedes Formula 1 team that is changing the history of the sport.
Lauda is movement. But to say simply that Niki Lauda is movement is actually a grave tautology. Because Lauda and motion are so inextricably linked. It would be a mistake to talk about only the Austrian’s driving career though: his 25 grand prix victories and three world championships – as well as the one that got away from him after the unforgettable fire at the Nurburgring. Not to mention the incredible story of what came after it, with his retirement at Fuji under monsoon-like conditions at the end of a truly dramatic 1976 season. That is just one face of the multi-faceted prism constituted by this true Renaissance man, who has now entered the pantheon of legends.
Niki decided to become a racing champion before he even had his driving licence. Up to that point, the story is a familiar one. But the background to it was unique. He came from a noble family of Viennese bankers, so Niki first asked for some financial help from his paternal grandfather to kick-start his career. “Money to go racing with?” came the outraged answer. “If a Lauda is going to be in the newspapers it should be in the financial pages!”