When an Austrian family gave a gift to the world on the 22nd day of February back in 1949, they didn’t know that that little boy would change the history of Formula One. Andreas Nikolaus Lauda, who would later be called just Niki Lauda by his fans, fell in love with auto racing before he was 20. When he steered the wheel for the first time in 1968 in a competitive race, his family was not optimistic about the whole idea.
However, almost half a century later, Niki Lauda has been immortalized in movies, books and motorsports press columns (one of the notable ones being a recent movie Rush made in his honor). Many have described him as the hallmark of success in Formula one history. The lad at the time struggled to remain on wheel despite dwindling support from his close circles. But in 1974, Niki’s dream inched closer. He was incorporated in Ferrari Formula 1 team - and as they say, the rest is a rich history left behind.
Perhaps, his fierce rivalry with a long time F1 driver James Hunt put him on the global map. When the duo came head-to-head in 1975, James Hunt basked in glory but Niki bounced back by winning the championship the same year. The two locked horns in races but maintained a close relationship.
Arguably, the defining moment for Niki Lauda’s career was in 1976, a year later when he raced against Hunt during the German Grand prix. The cameras were trained on the duo and the ecstasy of the fans was at its peak. Then, the unthinkable happened - Niki’s car crashed, bursting into flames. Despite the safety measures put in place, he sustained serious injuries on his head, bones and lungs.
Even though Hunt went on to win the race, there was nothing much to celebrate about. Niki hinted at retirement. However, he defied all odds and pulled a surprise six weeks later. He was back - and his archrival was still in the game. When the 1976 season kicked off, the two met in Japan. Niki didn’t shine. The following year, he summoned all his strength and skill, and indeed, it paid off. He stunningly clinched the championship and then announced retirement. Heroes are remembered, but legends never die.
Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons