Today, the world says goodbye to an F1 legend. Niki Lauda (Andreas-Nikolaus Lauda) was a one-of-a-kind driver whose passion for the sport, perseverance, and general kindness will be remembered for many years to come.
With so much outpouring of love and appreciation for the Austrian driver, I find myself quietly reflecting on what Niki meant to me.
This is how I came to know of Niki Lauda. I was in college and spent a lot of time watching old videos of classic F1 races. When I happened upon the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, I knew I had found something special that would stick with me forever, and be a guiding force in many trials throughout my life. At the time, I had not known about Niki’s horrific crash at the German Grand Prix, nor the severity of his injuries. I also did not know that his presence at Monza was a mere five weeks after that accident.
The True Face of a Champion
Niki qualified P5 at Monza and finished an incredible fourth place. All this while still wearing bandages on his face for burns sustained in the accident, and a special helmet to minimize the pain.
His performance at the Italian Grand Prix was remarkable for so many reasons. However, what stood out to me was his sheer courage, strength, and determination. I couldn’t help imagining the pain he must have been in, the fear he must have felt, and crippling self-doubt.
Niki had gone from being sickly terrified to drive during practice, only to pass Reutemann’s Ferrari – the man who was hired to replace him – and claim fourth place on race day. This result also meant that Lauda was still in the running to become world champion, a title he will not take after choosing to withdraw in the final race in Japan due to safety concerns. Lauda lost the title to James Hunt by 1 point.
When people speak of Niki, they often recognize they are dealing with one of the best Formula One driver there ever was. His perseverance won him three world-championships and gave us some of the most incredible performances in F1 history. When I think of Niki, I’ll remember courage above all else.
Niki, thank you for showing me that giving up should never be an option, and that life is about taking risks.
I will remember you, Niki Lauda.