Niki Lauda enjoyed an incredible career, captured brilliantly in the latest documentary Lauda: The Untold Story. Thanks to some friends, Spares Box is giving away 10 brand-spanking-new DVD copies of this incredible doco, and we thought it only right to pay homage to the great man himself.
Loads of people have seen the blockbuster Hollywood film ‘Rush’ starring Chris Hemsworth as Lauda, but Niki’s story didn’t end there. Some of Lauda’s greatest performances happened off the screen…
The First Podium – 1974 Argentine Grand Prix
In an off-season where frantic driver and team changes were constantly occurring (only four drivers actually remained at the same team between 1973 and 1974), BRM came under the sponsorship of Motul and subsequently replaced their driving line up with three Frenchmen. Former drivers Lauda and Clay Regazzoni suddenly found themselves without a team!
Luckily, they both found salvation in Ferrari, who had endured three years of turmoil in the early 70s before a new Chairman took the helm. Placing a huge amount of faith in both Lauda and Regazzoni from the outset, Ferrari were quickly rewarded as Lauda brought the Scuderia home in 2nd place at his debut for the Italian outfit.
The Fan Car – 1978 Swedish Grand Prix
As the sun rose across the town of Anderstorp on the morning of the 1978 Swedish GP, the entire Formula 1 paddock was up in arms. The reason? Niki Lauda’s shiny new Brabham BT46B, which would later become known as the ‘Fan Car’.
In typical form, team owner Bernie Ecclestone was insistent that the moving fan on the back of the car had the primary function of cooling the Alfa Romeo engine that powered it, however it conveniently doubled as a device that sucked air out from the bottom of the car. This proved incredible at providing rear downforce, in turn radically enhancing the cars grip and overall performance.
With Lauda at the wheel, the Fan Car won its first and only race by over 30 seconds, and despite being ruled as legal by the FIA, the Fan Car was withdrawn by Brabham for reasons that are still kind of unclear…
The lack of performance that followed was a key factor in Lauda announcing his first retirement the next season.
The Return and Redemption – 1982 US Grand Prix West
Following a 3 year career hiatus – during which he, naturally, founded a charter airline – Lauda returned to the sport he had bitterly (yet fairly accurately) described as “driving in circles” as a driver for McLaren. However, there was an issue…
Following 2 years of little-to-no success before his first retirement, McLaren’s chief sponsor – Marlboro, had severe doubts as to whether Lauda was in any way capable of winning a Grand Prix. It only took 3 races for Lauda to prove his worth and on the shores of Long Beach, California he put on a commanding display for the 82,000 spectators, taking his maiden win in Marlboro colours.
The Hometown Hero – 1984 Austrian Grand Prix
It took him 13 years and almost as many attempts, but in 1 of 2 of Lauda’s greatest triumphs in the ’84 season, the Austrian finally triumphed in front of a home crowd at the Österreichring.
However, it was not without drama. Following Prost’s retirement due to a crash early on in the race, Lotus’s Mario Andretti took the lead, only to suffer himself from tyre problems. Lauda eventually passed him, and despite suffering what appeared to be a Gearbox failure, the problem rectified itself and he stormed home by a full 23 seconds!
To this date, it remains the only time an Austrian driver has won a Grand Prix on home soil.
The Third World Championship – 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix
The field for the season where Lauda won his third and final F1 world championship is perhaps one of the strongest in history. For the final race in Portugal, joining the Austrian on the grid were; a young Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Pique, Keke Rosberg and Lauda’s own McLaren teammate and championship rival – Alain Prost.
With Lauda qualifying in 11th and requiring a 2nd place finish to snatch the championship from the Frenchman, signs celebrating Prost’s triumph were already waving around the Estoril circuit. However, Lauda produced an incredible and calculated display carving through the field and finishing in 2nd place, snatching the championship by just half a point!
To this day, it remains the closest margin for a world championship finish, and one of the greatest F1 finishes in the history of motorsport.
The Last Hurrah – 1985 Dutch Grand Prix
Niki Lauda’s F1 career came to a rather unfortunate conclusion, and in the 1985 season he was forced into retirement in 11 of the 14 races he started. However, he was still capable of spectacular driving and no race emphasised this more than the Dutch Grand Prix.
After suffering a disappointing engine failure at his home race in the round prior, Lauda was determined to get a result out of the Dutch Grand Prix. He and Prost put on one of the great all-time battles over the last 12 laps of the race, swapping the lead multiple times before Lauda triumphed by just 2 tenths of a second. This would prove to be his final victory in an F1 car, and after another string of retirements, the Austrian, sadly, hung up his helmet for good.