“When I came to the hospital. You feel like you are very tired, and you would like to go and sleep…but you know it’s not just go and sleeping. It’s something else. And then you just fight with your brain. You hear noises and you hear voices, and you just try to listen to what they are saying and you try to keep your brain working to get the body ready to fight against illness…I did that and that way I survived.” — Niki Lauda.
The only man to have won a championship under the wing of Ferrari and McLaren – Formula 1’s two most successful constructors – Niki Lauda would have held a unique place in the history of motorsport anyway. However, the fact is that Lauda is known for far more than his natural talent on the track; a three-time Formula 1 champion and one of the sport’s greats, the defining single moment in the life of Niki Lauda is horrendous near-tragedy.
Yet things could have been so different. Days before the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda would call a meeting between his fellow drivers. A safety spokesperson for he and his peers, Lauda raised concerns over many safety aspects of the renowned Nürburgring track and proposed a vote on whether the German Grand Prix should go ahead at all. It isn’t easy to stop a racer taking to the track, and even a man of Lauda’s ilk wouldn’t get through to his fellow pros. Outvoted, Lauda would take to the tarmac 1st August 1976.
In a nasty turn of fate, Lauda would fall victim to a track he never considered fit for high-speed motorsport, hitting headlines worldwide. In his attempt to make up lost time, Lauda’s Ferrari 312T2 shuddered to the right and spun through the fencing into a bank of dirt. Almost immediately, his Ferrari rebounded onto the track, shrouded in flames. He would spend around a minute trapped in the blaze. Despite the best efforts of other drivers, Lauda would suffer severe burns to his hands, the neck and head, as well as lung damage, before falling into a coma, sparking fears for his life.
As you can see above, it’s astonishing that anyone would survive such a graphic accident. Yet Lauda was back on the track within six weeks – missing only two full races. At Monza, he would finish the Italian Grand Prix in a frankly unbelievable fourth place. Not only could Lauda mix it with the best after escaping death only weeks earlier, but the bravery shown to shake off the doubt and fear that would have plagued his mind makes him a true inspiration and a genuine contender for the title of motorsport’s biggest badass.
After a three-year retirement beginning in 1979, and a full eight years after his career-defining crash, he would win his third championship in 1984. Fending off the younger, rising star Alain Prost, Lauda would remind the world that he’s the true comeback king.
And, of course it’s not just us at Spares Box who love the man affectionately known at The Rat. The subject of award-winning film Rush, his story is so intriguing that he’s captured the imagination of a new generation, and gripped the attention of the world once more. On top of that, he’s paid €1.2m to wear a hat. Talk about things turning out all right.
It’s safe to say Lauda just keeps coming back and delivering the goods.