|First race||Austrian Grand Prix||Spielberg||August 15, 1971||Race results|
|Last race||Australian Grand Prix||Adelaide||November 3, 1985||Race results|
Niki Lauda's path to Formula One was not a tale of victories, heroic performances and titles, but more of bank loans and debts. Once in though, the former became the norm. Having self-funded his way through racing Minis and Formula Vees, Lauda secured a massive loan against his life insurance, which he used to buy himself a Formula Two drive with March in 1972, and that soon became a Formula One seat for the team.
The season with March was a poor one, and Lauda's prospects looked bleak at the end of the season with huge debts. He managed to secure a drive with BRM in 1973, sinking him in to further debt, but he impressed alongside Clay Regazzoni and was rewarded with a new contract that would tie him to the team for a further two seasons in returning for writing off what he owed. Regazzoni moved to Ferrari though, and after a glowing reference, Enzo Ferrari bought Lauda out of his contract and cleared his debts too.
The 1974 car wasn't the quickest, but Lauda took his first two wins during the season and was in contention for the title, but several costly errors eventually saw him finish fourth in the championship. He wouldn't repeat those mistakes the following year though, winning on five occasions to bring Ferrari its first driver's championship since John Surtees took the title in 1964.
Lauda was on course for back-to-back championships in 1976, leading the standings by 31 points going in to the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. During the race though, as he tried to make up lost time on a drying track, his car snapped away from him at high speed and hit a bank, bursting in to flames. Four of the following drivers pulled Lauda out of the burning wreckage, but with first and third degree burns, many broken bones and extensive lung damage a priest administered him the last rites in a German hospital.
Six weeks later though, having missed only two races, Lauda was back to finish fourth in Monza with a heroic drive. Heavily scarred, Lauda even managed third place at the penultimate race in America, leaving him with a three point lead over James Hunt going in to the final race of the season. Having qualified one place behind Hunt in third place for the decider at Fuji, heavy rain on race day was deemed too dangerous to race in by Lauda and he withdrew, clearing the path for Hunt to take the title by finishing third. Despite most observers calling Lauda's decision an act of immense bravery, Ferrari disagreed, and he endured a difficult relationship with the team in 1977. With three wins backed up by five second places, Lauda claimed his second title with two races still to go, and promptly left Ferrari.
He moved to Brabham, but the car was uncompetitive and two wins in as many years saw Lauda quit after practice in Canada. He left to start his own airline, but returned in 1982 to join McLaren (and in turn make more money to allow further growth for his airline). Again he only took two wins in two years, but then it all came right in 1984; he took five wins despite never qualifying on the front row, and pipped his young team-mate Alain Prost to the title by half a point - the smallest margin in Formula One history.
1985 was a poor season though, as an unreliable McLaren let him down, and he only finished three races. His last completed race was a winning one though, as he finally retired for good as a triple world champion, but remains around the F1 circuit as a man who really has been through it all.
Strengths and weaknesses
His lack of early promise and reliance on pay drives led to an immense work ethic that impressed even Enzo Ferrari. His approach was to learn by making mistakes, leading to a number of errors early in his career which cost him the 1974 world championship.
Being signed up to drive for Ferrari in 1974, allowing him to clear his debts and finally getting recognition for his value as a driver. He would go on to win two world championships with the team.
His crash at the Nurburgring that nearly cost him his life.
"You appreciate that it is very easy to die and you have to arrange your life to cope with that reality."
"There are more important things in life than the world championship, like staying alive."
Lauda took advantage of his horrific accident in Germany, by setting up sponsorship deals for the caps that he wore to cover up the burns on his head.
He once flew James Hunt to a test in France in his private jet after the pair had enjoyed a night out in Salzburg, only for the intoxicated Hunt to park his McLaren on the side of the track and fall asleep in it.