The Passing of Legendary Formula 1 Racer Niki Lauda
Niki Lauda, legendary Formula 1 racing champion, licensed commercial pilot, owner of several airlines, and television analyst died on Monday, May 20, 2019. He was 70 years old.
Born in Vienna, Austria on February 22, 1949, Lauda won Formula 1 racing championships in 1975, 1977, and 1984.
He was destined to be a racecar driver. While still in school, he often drove his uncle’s BMW around a paper mill yard and by the time he was 14-years old he was disassembling Volkswagens. At the tender age of 18, he left school and borrowed money to acquire a Mini Cooper that he used to compete in mountain races. Just one year later he borrowed money again to purchase a Porsche 911.
He began to race seriously in 1969 and immediately won eight events at low-level competitions. Soon after he cashed in his life insurance policy and used his family name without permission to finance a series of better cars so that he could participate in more difficult racing events.
His abilities on the racetrack attracted the attention of Enzo Ferrari, owner of the Ferrari Car Company, and in 1973 he invited Lauda to join his Ferrari racing team.
He quickly became a frequent visitor to the Ferrari test track in Fiorano, Italy and was so impressed with the private track, automated timekeepers, closed-circuit television facilities and massive staff of automotive engineers, fitters, technicians and administrators, that he compared it to a NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) training site.
He married Marlene Knaus in 1976 and had two children –- Mathias and Lukas. He divorced Marlene in 1991 and before marrying Brigit Wertzinger, a flight attendant, in 2008; he had another son named Christoph during an extramarital affair. He had twins with Wertzinger named Max and Mia in 2009.
In 1979, he founded Lauda Airlines, a charter service, which he sold in 1999. Four years later he founded Niki, a budget airline for which he piloted flights twice a week. The company merged with Air Berlin in 2011 and he acquired another charter airline he dubbed Lauda Motion in 2016.
He was seriously hurt and almost died after a crash at the Old Nurburgring track during the German Grand Prix in 1976 and was able to heal and race again just five and a half weeks later. He also experienced a spin at Nurburgring in 1977 as he was competing for a championship. He won an event during which he had to drive over debris and his car ran without oil and water for the last 10 laps.
He retired twice from racing. The first time it was to start Lauda Airlines. However, racing was still in his blood. So he tested a McLaren racecar, decided to comeback, and won his third race at Long Beach, California.
He retired the second time to concentrate on his airline company endeavors, but kept his hands in the racing business serving as a consultant with Ferrari and Jaguar and later serving with the Mercedes racing team starting in 2010.
In 2013 Ron Howard directed a film that depicted Lauda’s rivalry with James Hunt. Titled, Rush, the movie earned almost $100 million.
According to European news reports, Niki Lauda is survived by his wife Brigit and his children.