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Although the 2013 feature film Rush brought the name of three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda to the attention of a wider, younger audience, he’s been one of the most recognisable figures in the world of motorsport since his Formula One debut in the early 1970s.
Let’s look at 17 things you may not know about this motor racing legend.
Niki Lauda died on May 20th, 2019 following complications from a lung transplant the previous year, a recent bout of influenza, and acute kidney disease (after a transplant a decade earlier).
Lauda was born on February 22nd, 1949, which made him age 70 at the time of his death.
Niki Lauda was 1.7m (5’7”) tall. Close to the ideal height for a Formula One driver.
Lauda was born in Vienna, Austria.
Although born in Vienna, during his life Lauda had a home in Hof (near Salzburg, close to the German border) and on the Spanish island of Ibiza. At the time of his death he was again living in Vienna.
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff told formula1.com in 2017 that, "One of the least religious people I know is Niki Lauda, but sometimes in tricky situations he would pray in the garage: 'Dear Lord, please help us!”
Long-time Formula One journalist Maurice Hamilton told Irish sporting website The 42 that after Lauda’s life-threatening crash at the Nurburgring in 1976 he was close to death in hospital when the nurse asked if he would like the priest to come. According to Hamilton, “He [Lauda] wasn’t deeply religious, but thought: ‘Absolutely, why not?’”
In the prime of his racing career Niki Lauda’s talents saw him secure a substantial annual salary, and in his life after motor racing Niki Lauda founded three Austrian airlines - Lauda Air, Fly Niki, and Laudamotion. He was also a non-executive chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix, holding a 10 per cent stake in the operation.
At the time of his death Lauda’s net worth is estimated to have been EUR$500 million.
Niki Lauda was born to Ernst-Peter Lauda, Chairman of Neusiedler Paper Mill Limited, and his wife Elisabeth Lauda.
Niki Lauda married his first wife, longtime girlfriend and then fashion model Marlene Knaus, in 1976. Born in the USA, she relocated and received Austrian citizenship. They agreed to divorce in 1991.
Lauda married second wife, then flight attendant Birgit Wetzinger, in 2008, and remained so until his death. Wetzinger famously donated a kidney to save Lauda’s life less than a year into their relationship.
Lauda had five children in his extended family. Two with first wife Marlene Knaus, sons Lukas (born 1979) and Mathias (born 1981), third son Christoph was born in 1982 following an extra-marital affair, and twins Mia and Max (born 2009) with second wife, Birgit Wetzinger.
Lauda won three Formula One World Drivers Championships - 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, and 1984 with McLaren.
The worst crash of Lauda’s career, and one of the most highly publicised incidents in Formula One history, was his fiery wreck at the Nurburgring Nordschleife during the 1976 German Grand Prix.
Lauda’s Ferrari 312T left the track just before the right-hand Bergwerk corner at the top of the circuit, hitting an embankment and bursting into flames. Trapped in the car, Lauda was severely burned around his head and face, at the same time inhaling super-heated toxic gases which damaged his lungs. Other drivers in the race stopped to help pull Lauda out of the car, the primary rescuer being Wolf driver, Arturo Merzario.
Lauda’s book, To Hell and Back details the crash, its lasting impact, and his fight back to the driver’s seat and even greater success.
Niki Lauda had many close rivals during his F1 career, and although his intense competition with McLaren driver James Hunt in the 1976 season was made even more famous courtesy of the Ron Howard-directed feature film Rush, his down-to-the-wire struggle with McLaren teammate Alain Prost for the 1984 title makes the Frenchman arguably his biggest rival.
Prost won seven races to Lauda's five throughout the championship, but the latter’s incredible tenacity and consistency saw him take the crown by half a point.
The movie Rush is a dramatised account of the 1976 F1 World Championship, focusing on the rivalry between a young Niki Lauda (Ferrari), played by Daniel Brühl, and James Hunt (McLaren) played by Chris Hemsworth.
The intensity of that year’s title chase and the inter-team politics is heightened in the film with Lauda’s horrific crash at that year’s German Grand Prix a defining moment.
Portrayed as distant and wary of one another in the film, in real life Lauda and Hunt were good friends with great respect for one another, the pair having flatted together during their Formula 3 days.
Although he didn’t wear prescription glasses, Niki Lauda wore Carrera 5595 sunglasses during his F1 career, reprised as the more contemporary Carrera 80 model when worn by actor Daniel Brühl who portrayed Lauda in the film Rush.
“Happiness is an enemy. It weakens you. Suddenly, you have something to lose”
“Giving up is something a Lauda doesn’t do”
“Patience is a virtue in life, of course, but it's not something we F1 people have too much of”
“A lot of people criticize Formula 1 as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did what is necessary?”
“Really, you should always discuss the defeats because you can learn much more from failure than from success”