Remembering Niki Lauda: The man who cheated death after a horrific crash

Remembering Niki Lauda: The man who cheated death after a horrific crash

Pune: ‘Gone, but never forgotten’ would be echoing in the minds of every Formula One racing fan, including players and many leaders within the sport, as this week marks a year since the passing away of the racing legend Niki Lauda.

Wednesday marks a year to the day since the Austrian great, aged 70, took his last breath at his home in Zurich. While the three-time Formula One World Champion was regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, many considered his greatest achievement to be an incident outside the sport, albeit it was caused on the race track.

Rising from tragedy
After winning his first world title in 1975, Lauda was on course to repeat the feat the very next year, winning five of the first seven races of the season. What followed in the eighth was something no one saw coming. During the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, Lauda hit a slippery patch at 140 miles per hour, resulting in a dangerous crash that caused third-degree burns to his head and face. He also inhaled toxic gases that damaged his lungs after his vehicle burst into flames.

On Lauda’s third day in intensive care, a priest even gave him the last rites of the church, but Lauda was far from done despite everything he had suffered that week.

“I kept telling myself, If he wants to do that, OK, but I’m not quitting,” Lauda had said in an interview after he began a remarkable recovery.

After numerous operations and several burns to his body, Lauda did the unthinkable and returned to the F1 circuit just six weeks since the crash and finished fourth at the Italian Grand Prix.

He started winning soon and even finished as runner-up that season. The following year, in 1977, there was once again no stopping the Austrian legend who won his second F1 championship, before winning his third and final title in 1985. He retired from racing that year.

He then established himself as an airline entrepreneur and was also non-executive chairman of the F1 Mercedes team. Even as an administrator, Lauda had a major contribution to the sport as this time he was instrumental in bringing British star Lewis Hamilton, who has already won six F1 world titles.

Tributes pour in
On Wednesday, the Mercedes F1 team released a video paying tribute to Lauda on the anniversary of his death, led by Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff and also featured Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Speaking about the impact Lauda created in his career, Hamilton said, “He was always thinking about how we can improve. The greatest sign from Niki was if you did the job, he would take off his hat - that was for him saying, ‘Well done!’”

“It wasn’t easy for him to compliment with words, but it was big when he just would take his hat off and say ‘well done’,” he added.

Echoing those thoughts, Bottas added, “From Niki, I learned to always trust your talent and never doubt it. To always remind yourself to never doubt your driving style. He also taught to not get too down with disappointments and how to recover quicker and look forward to more positive times.”

Wolff spoke about Lauda’s resilient attitude, saying, “Niki inspired me with his personality and with his resilient approach to things. And also in the way he was able to reinvent himself. He was a racing driver, then created an airline and also headed the supervisors’ board for Mercedes. That is an amazing career.”

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