Formula 1 mourns one of its biggest stars: Niki Lauda, three-time world champion of 1975, 1977 and 1984, died on Monday. The Austrian racing legend became 70 years old.
Niki Lauda has always been fast in his entire life. As a student, as a racing driver, as a moribund convalescent, as a nimble commentator on television or as a buyer and seller of airlines. Only once did he miss the usual pace: after the menacing lung transplant in 2018 – in all likelihood a necessary long-term consequence of his devastating fire accident in 1976 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Now Lauda has lost the last race of his life on Monday.
Niki Lauda is dead – this is a thought that the motorsport world will find hard to get used to. Lauda was too involved – too omnipresent in his appearance.
When in the past weeks the Mercedes managers were asked again and again, when Lauda would probably return to the track, they always had to choose the same words: “Niki still has to take great care of himself. We are in constant contact with him and hope all, that he will be back soon.”
The historic duel with Hunt
Niki Lauda, the name stands for the presumably outstanding World Cup duel of a 69-year-old Formula 1 history. Lauda and the Englishman James Hunt fighting for the World Cup crown in 1976, was also made into a movie for the big screen. Daniel Brühl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt also convey to the younger fans what happened in the craziest season this sport has ever experienced. Lauda being in the lead at the beginning, disqualifications of his main rival, the accident at the Nürburgring, a bare seven weeks of convalescence until the comeback in Monza, the final in the rain hell of Fuji – all this was staged by two drivers who were very different but appreciated and respected each other a lot. Hunt, who like Lauda became an accented TV expert after his career, died in 1993 after a dissolute life early at the age of 45 years.
Their relationship to each other was a fascinating mix of rivalry and friendship. There is, for example, the anecdote that Hunt told Lauda when he returned to the sport with a disfigured face after his severe burns and skin grafts: “You look better now than before.” Lauda once confirmed this in the German Kicker magazine: “Yeah, he really said that, but that was good for me, if you’re defaced, and someone makes such a good joke, it’ll help you. I thought, well, see I’m not so bad, and I was not really nice looking before that, but I did not notice that because I was so used to my face.”
From these days Lauda did what his health forced him to do: he fought. Again and again his damaged, almost completely poisoned body demanded heavy medical interventions. He needed two kidney transplants, one donated by his brother, one by his wife Birgit, which he left now with their eight-year-old twins.
Their world and the world of Formula 1 has been much emptier since yesterday.