On February 22, Andrea Nikolaus Lauda, known as Niki, was born in Vienna. Lauda was one of the many bets won by Enzo Ferrari who wrote that he had been impressed by the Austrian, having seen him in the 1973 British Grand Prix, where he was second for a few laps having started fourth at the wheel of a BRM. Ferrari admitted however, that it was actually Clay Regazzoni, about to return to Maranello for the 1974 season, who convinced him to sign up this not very well known driver. “He encouraged me to choose this driver, saying he could do a lot for Ferrari.”
And so it turned out, as Niki put an end to a drought in terms of world titles that dated back to 1964, when John Surtees won, bringing home the 1975 and ’77 titles, while having a great 76 season in which he was only beaten by James Hunt, but still did enough for Ferrari to take the Constructors’ championship. At the end of 1977 came the tempestuous divorce from Ferrari, which many years later Niki admitted regretting. “The Commendatore was right and if I’d stayed at Ferrari I’d have won more than Vettel.” In Maranello cars, apart from two world titles, Lauda took 15 wins, a figure only bettered by Schumacher, 23 pole positions and 32 podiums.
Andreas Nikolaus Lauda and the Scuderia Ferrari had a profound relationship, a happy and sometimes controversial liaison with great victories and also some polemics.
Enzo Ferrari called the young and promising Austrian to Maranello in 1974. Already at his debuts in Spain and Holland Niki gave it his all for victory. The fight for the title was held inside the Ferrari family with Niki’s teammate and competitor Ragazzoni and the Brazilian Fittipaldi, who gained the upper hand in this year. 1974 was a test for the Scuderia of the Prancing Horse, with a new driver and the development of what went on to be the winning car, the Ferrari 312 T (T stands for transversal).
In ‘75 Lauda was not only part of the Team but also in Enzo Ferrari’s heart, who treated him as part of the family. On the same wavelength as the Scuderia’s Manager, Luca di Montezemolo, Lauda gained victory after victory. In 1975 the Austrian was World Champion for the first time and brought the Constructors’ and the Drivers’ Title to Maranello – after eleven years.
The 1976 season seemed to start in the best possible way for the new World Champion, but the balance inside the Company started to be uncertain. Luca di Montezemolo left Ferrari to work at FIAT and with Daniele Audetto, his successor, the driver-Scuderia set up changed. Audetto chose Regazzoni over Lauda, but a tough Lauda didn’t want to take a back seat and continued to win on the track. A banal domestic accident forced him to slow down, provoking uproar in the international press, which was always very present during Lauda’s years at the Prancing Horse.
Ferrari was still winning, but internal disagreements could be felt. On 1st August 1976 the Championship race was held in Germany, at the Nürburgring. It was a head-to-head race between Lauda and Hunt. On the second lap Niki lost the control of his car, hit an embankment and rolled back into the path of another car. The impact was tremendous and Niki’s car burst into flames. He was trapped in the wreckage. His colleagues pulled him from his car and saved his life. Lauda returned to race only six weeks later and had completely changed. He was still leading the standings and stunned the press, the fans and also his Team. The Prancing Horse could still count on him.
The 1977 season didn’t start too well. At Buenos Aires Lauda’s single-seater, still the 312 T, was modified for the new season. Many victories followed and Lauda won the Championships due to his incredible consistency, bringing home also the third Constructors’ Title in a row for the Scuderia. Lauda had done it again, but due to the internal pressure at Ferrari he decided against a fourth year with the Scuderia. The breakup was final and for the following year Niki signed a contract with Brabham-Alfa Romeo. After the temporary retirement Lauda was back on the track, winning his third and last World Title in 1984 behind the wheel of a competitive car.
Andrea Nikolaus Lauda Full Biography and Profile
1974 Dutch GP, one-two no. 29 for Ferrari
On 23rd June 1974, the Dutch Grand Prix was run at Zandvoort. In qualifying, Ferrari took the lion’s share, with Niki Lauda on pole, six tenths faster than team-mate Clay Regazzoni. The rest of the field was over a second behind.
At the start, Lauda went into the lead with no troubles, while Mike Hailwood in the McLaren managed to move up to second place ahead of Regazzoni. On lap 2, the Swiss took back second place and the two 312 B3-74 were able to pull away from the pack.
The two Ferraris spent the closing stages managing the situation so that Lauda took his second win and the two men gave Ferrari its 29th one-two, while behind, Emerson Fittipaldi had worked his way up to third in the McLaren, enough to put in the lead of the championship. One point behind was Lauda, who was one ahead of Regazzoni.
Niki Lauda wins and snatches lead from Fittipaldi
The 1975 Belgian Grand Prix was held on 25th May. Niki Lauda was definitely on an upward path after a difficult start to the season as he drove his 312 T to pole position beating the Brazilian Carlos Pace in the Brabham by just four hundredths of a second. The second row featured Italy’s Vittorio Brambilla in the March and Switzerland’s Clay Regazzoni in the other Ferrari.
At the start, Pace got the better of Lauda to take the lead ahead of the Austrian, followed by Brambilla and Regazzoni. Not long after, the Italian also dealt with Lauda, who was thus third. Vittorio then overtook Pace to go into the lead, but by then Lauda had got his tyres warmed up nicely and set about moving up the order.
Niki caught Pace and then Brambilla to go into the lead in his Ferrari, pulling away from the field, helped by the fight going on behind him. Jody Scheckter was the first of the pursuers in the Tyrrell, but over 20 seconds behind. Third was Carlos Reutemann in the Brabham.
On that, day, Lauda went into the lead in the championship and he would keep it to the end, beating McLaren’s Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi.
1975: Niki Lauda’s third consecutive win
On 8th June 1975, the Swedish Grand Prix was held at Anderstorp. The big question was whether or not Ferrari’s Niki Lauda could continue his winning streak, having finished first in the two previous rounds, but after qualifying, a hat-trick didn’t seem on the cards. Pole went to Vittorio Brambilla in the March, with Lauda only fifth on the grid, almost a second off the Italian, while also ahead of him were Patrick Depailler in the Tyrrell, Jean-Pierre Jarier in the Shadow and Carlos Reutemann in the Brabham.
At the start, Brambilla went into the lead, with Lauda still fifth. Depailler went off when his brakes failed and then Brambilla was the first to suffer with the tyres overheating. His March quickly dropped back and Jarier retired. Reutemann thus took the lead, while Carlos Pace in the other Brabham, passed Lauda but went out shortly afterwards.
In the final laps, the speed differential was clear to see with the Ferrari man gaining visibly on the Argentinian. On lap 70 of 80 the Austrian had closed the gap and taken the lead in his 312T to claim his third successive win of the season.
Niki Lauda’s horrifying accident at the Nürburgring
On 1st August 1976, the German Grand Prix was held at the Nurburgring. In qualifying, Niki Lauda who had dominated the season so far in his Ferrari 312 T2, had to give best to James Hunt and the McLaren. Lauda’s race got off to a bad start, because a rain shower had led to him choosing rain tyres. But the decision cost the Austrian a lot of time and he lost places to those who had opted for slicks. He therefore stopped to change them and set off to make up ground, but then, partly down to his still cold tyres offering little grip on the damp track, he had that terrible accident at Bergwerk.
Lauda lost control of the car, hit the bank at the side of the track and ended up across the track, with his helmet missing, having been ripped off in the impact. The car caught fire as fuel leaked out and Niki was trapped in the burning cockpit. Other drivers bravely tried to help as they came across the incident: Harald Ertl, Guy Edwards and Brett Lunger all did what they could, but it was mainly thanks to Arturo Merzario, who pulled him out of the flaming cockpit, who saved him. However, Lauda was in a very serious condition, not so much because of the burns, but because of the poisonous fumes he had inhaled that might have proved lethal. It was only four days later on 5 August that his condition was no longer deemed life threatening and three days after that, he was moved from the Mannheim hospital where he was first taken, to one at Ludwigshafen, which had a specialist burns unit.
Those who believed his racing days were over had not taken into account the Austrian’s determination. Lauda was back on track in record time and only missed out on that year’s title by a single point. The following year he was crowned world champion, also winning at the new venue for the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim.
Triumphant end to 1975 season
On 5th October 1975, Niki Lauda won the USA Grand Prix. A triumphant season for Scuderia Ferrari came to an end at Watkins Glen, after it had already claimed the Drivers’ and Constructors’ crowns for Maranello almost a month earlier in Monza, after an eleven year wait. The win for the new world champion in the USA put the seal on a season that had seen Ferrari take six victories, one with Regazzoni and five with Lauda, nine poles, all for the Austrian, six fastest race laps, at a score of 4-2 in favour of the Swiss driver and eleven podiums, which went 8-3 to Niki.
At Watkins Glen, Lauda started once again from pole and this time, he had Fittipaldi in the McLaren alongside him. The outcome was pretty much decided at the first corner when the Ferrari man managed to get the better of the Brazilian. The Austrian kept the lead throughout, taking the chequered flag almost five seconds ahead of Fittipaldi.
The other Ferrari also had a part to play in this Grand Prix, even if it didn’t make it to the finish. Regazzoni had to spend a long time in the pits after he damaged the nose, as he attempted to pass Mass and found himself up with the leaders Lauda and Fittipaldi as they were preparing to pass him. Of course, Clay let his team-mate through, but he made life a little bit more difficult for the McLaren driver, to the extent that he was black flagged. Ferrari’s Sporting Director, Montezemolo had an animated debate with the Race Director and in the end had to call Regazzoni in.
It was Ferrari’s first win in a Formula 1 race in the United States, the country which has become by far the biggest market for Prancing Horse road cars.
Niki Lauda tops World points table
On 3rd April 1977, the USA West Grand Prix was held at Long Beach. Niki Lauda took pole in the 312 T3, Ferrari’s 84th, the Austrian lapping two tenths faster than Mario Andretti in the Lotus.
Championship leader Jody Scheckter got away best in the Wolf, leading the pack into the first corner, followed by Lauda and Andretti. The Italo-American driver managed to pass the Austrian on lap 2, with Lauda fighting back but he flat spotted a tyre and had to give up. Scheckter had a comfortable lead from Andretti and Lauda, while an accident between Watson and Hunt held up the rest of the field, which effectively meant there were two races that day.
In the closing stages, Scheckter’s Wolf developed a slow puncture and the South African started to struggle. Andretti closed on him and then passed him, as did Lauda, so that was the order at the flag, so that the two Ferrari men caught up with Scheckter at the top of the points table.
Niki Lauda dominates at Kyalami
On March 5 1977, the third round of the championship was staged in South Africa. The first two had been won by Jody Scheckter in the neophyte Wolf in Argentina and Carlos Reutemann who took the win for Ferrari in Brazil. In South Africa, James Hunt took pole position by a whisker from Pace, while Niki Lauda was third.
Lauda got away well and closed up on Hunt and on lap 7, the Austrian passed the reigning world champion, who was also passed 11 laps later by an aggressive Scheckter, who didn’t hesitate to close the door on his adversary at the first corner. The race was marked by a tragedy involving Tom Pryce. On lap 22, the engine on Renzo Zorzi’s Shadow let go and he pulled up on the main straight in front of the pits. The car caught fire and a marshal diligently but unwisely tried to cross the track carrying an extinguisher. Tom, in the other Shadow, was hit on the helmet by the extinguisher and died on the spot, while his car, out of control, ran into Laffite’s Ligier at the next corner, as he was braking for the first turn.
The debris from the incident also affected Lauda’s race. A piece of the Shadow’s rollbar got stuck under the 312 T2, which began to lose coolant. Niki slowed and was thus caught by Scheckter, Hunt and Depailler, but still managed to fend off his rivals. Towards the end, Lauda also had lubricant problems which forced him to back off even more. The win was important for him as it meant he was now within two points of Schecktrer in the championship standings.
Niki Lauda’s final victory for Ferrari
On 28th August 1977, Niki Lauda won the Dutch Grand Prix. At the wheel of a 312 T2, the Austrian took his fifteenth and final victory with Ferrari: another two Grands Prix dressed in red – a second place at Monza and a fourth in Watkins Glen – were enough for him to take his second Drivers’ title, but his relationship with the Scuderia came to an end before the end of the championship, so that, by Mosport, Gilles Villeneuve was alongside the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann.
At Zandvoort, the Austrian was fourth fastest in qualifying and in the race he benefited first from the duel between Andretti and Hunt, as both of them ended up going off the track after a few laps and then, he successfully attacked Laffite on lap 20. Once in the lead, Lauda controlled the situation right to the end, even if the Frenchman and his Ligier-Matra was always right on his gearbox: at the chequered flag there was only 1.89 seconds between them.
Niki had already won this race three years earlier in his first year with Ferrari and did it again seven years later in 1984, when he was with McLaren: curiously, this too was a special victory because it was the twenty fifth and last of the Austrian’s racing career.
On 20 May 2019, Austrian motor racing great Niki Lauda, whose comeback from a near-fatal crash made him a global symbol of resilience and determination, died at the age of 70. Lauda was so badly injured in that accident at the 1976 German Grand Prix that a priest gave him the last rites as he lay in a coma.
- Andreas Nikolaus Lauda Biography and Profile (Ferrari)