Bloody Heroes: Niki Lauda 1949 – 2019

I bring you this edition of Bloody Heroes with a heavy heart. It was recently announced that Niki Lauda has died peacefully on the 20th of May 2019 at the age of 70. We write this obituary as a celebration of his life and contribution to motorsport.
Niki Lauda was an accomplished entrepreneur and Formula 1 race driver with two airlines and three championship wins under his belt. He is most famously known for his spectacular budding rivalry with the late James Hunt and life-changing F1 crash. The events of which inspired a Hollywood hit movie where he was portrayed by actor Daniel Brühl.

Early racing days

Despite the disapproval from his family, Niki Lauda set out to become a race driver. A very difficult thing to do without the support of your family considering the hefty financial backing required. He was so determined to make a name for himself in motorsport that he took on several loans as he worked his way through Formula 2 and eventually into Formula 1. It was in 1974 where his labour of love would eventually pay off when Enzo Ferrari personally signed him onto the team after hearing high praise for his fast driving ability.

A driver and engineer

Niki was more than just a fast driver. He would make large contributions to the technical development of the cars that he drove on track thanks to being well acquainted with the mechanical side of motorsport. This far-reaching knowledge and skill not only made him a formidable member of any racing team but also a well-established polymath. This skillset has always been rare in F1, even to this day.

Catastrophe

As skilled as Niki Lauda was on track, it wasn’t enough to avoid having a near-fatal accident at the Nurburgring GP in 1976. The accident did severe damage with third-degree burns to his head and face as well as damage to his lungs from toxic gasses. This would prove to be a pivotal point in Lauda’s life. Lauda received extensive treatment in hospital and in a show of resilience and determination he returned to the grid in 40 days to take a fourth-place finish at the Italian GP. His actions didn’t just come from courage and sportsmanship but, rather, his sheer will.

1976: Profile of Scuderia Ferrari driver Nikki Lauda of Austria before the Italian Grand Prix at the Monza circuit in Italy. Lauda finished in fourth place.  Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Life after racing

Lauda continued to compete until 1985 but that wouldn’t mark the end of his involvement in F1. In 1993 Lauda returned to Ferrari in a consulting role to the team. He then took the helm of the Jaguar racing team for a brief stint but his most significant contribution to the sport after hanging up his helmet was when he found his footing as a non-executive director of the Mercedes F1 team in 2012. He played an important role in bringing Lewis Hamilton onto the team which is one of the key reasons for Mercedes’ dominance in F1 in recent years. Another great example of Lauda’s tactical prowess.

Throughout each of moment of his life in F1, Niki Lauda has been a force for evolution and change within the sport. You would be hard pressed find another individual who has shaped F1 quite like he has or even anyone with a comparable skill set, determination and will against all odds. He is a role model for achieving your life goals with fervour and tact. And for that, we salute you Niki Lauda. May you rest in peace.

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