It seems almost incredible to imagine that this will now be the third Austrian Grand Prix without Niki Lauda. Because his presence is felt not only in the paddock at the Red Bull Ring, but also all over the country. Even before you get to the country in fact, as one day you might find yourself flying on Lauda Europe: a low-cost airline based in Malta, which is owned by Ryanair. The airline has an impressive fleet of 29 Airbus A320s, which primarily provides leased and charter flights.
It’s the latest instalment in a long chapter of airlines with links to Niki Lauda: aviation being his second love after cars. He’d already clinched two Formula 1 world titles by 1979, having qualified as a commercial pilot, and he was enduring an unremarkable season for Brabham when he suddenly decided to quit. His retirement came in the middle of Friday free practice in Canada, one race before the end of the season, saying: “I’m bored of going round in circles.”
Three days later he was already on the Boeing simulator in Seattle. Nobody really knew it at the time, but that was the beginning of Lauda Air. Niki himself often took the pilot’s seat, inaugurating new routes between Austria, Italy, the Balearics and Cuba.
Of course, Lauda had already resumed driving before then, winning the 1984 title with McLaren before definitively retiring after 25 grand prix victories and three world championships.
But he needed something else to drive him forward outside of the cockpit, perhaps also in the wake of that devastating air crash. So he was asked to run the sporting side of Ferrari by newly-arrived President Luca di Montezemolo at the end of 1991. It was Lauda who opened the negotiations for Michael Schumacher to come to Ferrari.. And he would subsequently go on to recruit Lewis Hamilton to the Mercedes team: starting the most successful association in motorsport. As the Englishman himself: “Niki was the one who got the deal over the line.”
And that’s been so true of Niki throughout his incredible life. He was simply the man who got things done.
Niki Lauda’s legacy still lives on today at the Red Bull Ring. Even though he was a Mercedes man through and through, he’d often be found having lunch in the paddock at Red Bull with his friend Helmut Marko: a fellow Austrian and racing rival.
The very first (of just 10) corners on the Red Bull Ring is now known as the Niki Lauda Curve, formerly the ‘Castrol Edge’ corner. Niki is actually the second Austrian driver to have a corner named after him at the Red Bull Ring, as Turn 9 is known as the Jochen Rindt Curve.
The Lauda family too, is still very much present on the international scene. Niki’s son Lukas Lauda presented the Pirelli Pole Position Award to Charles Leclerc in 2019 at the Red Bull Ring, while his younger son Matthias Lauda commentates for Austria’s Servus TV and also races for Aston Martin in the World Endurance Championship.
Right to the end, Niki was hugely attached to his homeland: there was even a provision in his will for the Museum of Art History in Vienna, in order to buy new paintings for everyone in Austria to enjoy.
And that’s why the Austrian Grand Prix will only ever be associated with one remarkable man: gone, but never forgotten.
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