Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Niki Lauda Born in Vienna, Austria - February 22, 1949

February 22, 1949
Niki Lauda
(Photo: Niki Lauda with Carlos Reutemann via photopin (license))
Born in Vienna, Austria.
Niki Lauda was born to a wealthy family. Lauda became a racing driver despite his family's disapproval. After starting out with a Mini, Lauda moved on into Formula Vee, as was normal in Central Europe, but rapidly moved up to drive in private Porsche and Chevron sports cars. With his career stalled, he took out a £30,000 GBP bank loan, secured by a life insurance policy, to buy his way into the fledgling March team as a Formula Two driver in 1971. Because of his family's disapproval he had an ongoing feud with his family over his racing ambitions and abandoned further contact. He was quickly promoted to the F1 team, but drove for March in F1 and F2 in 1972. Although the F2 cars were good, March's 1972 F1 season was catastrophic. Lauda, in despair and deep debt, briefly contemplated suicide but finally took out another bank loan to buy his way into the BRM team in 1973. Lauda was instantly quick, but the team was in decline. His big break came when his BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni left to rejoin Ferrari in 1974 and team owner Enzo Ferrari asked him what he thought of Lauda. Regazzoni spoke so favourably of Lauda that Ferrari promptly signed him, paying Niki enough to clear his debts.

Lauda would become a three-time F1 World Champion, winning in 1975, 1977 and 1984. He is currently the only driver to have been champion for both Ferrari and McLaren, the sport's two most successful constructors. More recently an aviation entrepreneur, he has founded and run two airlines, Lauda Air and Niki.
(Photo: Lauda Air Boeing 767-300 via photopin (license))
He was also a consultant for Scuderia Ferrari and team manager of the Jaguar Formula One racing team for two years. He is currently working as a pundit for German TV during Grand Prix weekends and acts as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.

Lauda has two sons with first wife, Mathias, a racing driver himself, and Lukas, who also acts as Mathias's manager. Lauda has a son, Christoph, through an extra-marital relationship. In 2008 he married Birgit Wetzinger, who is 30 years his junior and was a flight attendant for his airline. She donated a kidney to Lauda when the kidney he received in a transplant from his brother, years earlier, failed. In September 2009 Birgit gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, Max and Mia.

Lauda was seriously injured in a crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, during which his Ferrari burst into flames and he came close to death after inhaling hot toxic fumes and suffering severe burns. However he recovered and returned to race again just six weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix. Scars from the injuries he suffered have left him permanently disfigured.
(Photo: Fórmula1 - 2010 via photopin (license))
Niki in 2010
The movie Rush, a 2013 British-German biographical sports drama film, centered on the rivalry between Hunt and Niki Lauda, during the 1976 Formula One motor-racing season. 
Photo credit: engyles via photopin cc 
Lauda was played by Daniel Brühl. Lauda himself made a cameo appearance at the end of the film. At this point Lauda said of Hunt's death, "When I heard he'd died age 45 of a heart attack I wasn't surprised, I was just sad." He also said that Hunt was one of his small number of friends, a smaller number of people he respected and the only man he had ever envied.

In the book, James Hunt: The Biography, Niki Lauda stated that "We were big rivals, especially at the end of the season, but I respected him, because you could drive next to him, 2 centimeters, wheel-by-wheel, for 300 kilometers or more, and nothing would happen. 
He was a real top driver at the time."

Niki Lauda has written five books: The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving, My Years With Ferrari, The New Formula One: A Turbo Age, Meine Story, titled To Hell and Back in some markets, Das dritte Leben. Lauda credits Austrian journalist Herbert Volker with editing the books.

Lauda was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.

(Photo: 1984 United States Grand Prix, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas via photopin)
Niki Lauda in his Marlboro McLaren TAG during the 1984 Championship season - United States Grand Prix, Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

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