Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born on February 22, 1949 in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy family, he became a racing driver in 1968 (without his family's support), and began racing in Formula One with the March team in 1971. He initially found little success either with March or BRM, whom he joined for 1973. However, he got his big break in the sport when Clay Regazzoni, his teammate at BRM rejoined Ferrari for the 1974 season. Legendary team owner Enzo Ferrari asked for Clay's opinion on the Austrian driver, and upon receiving a positive response he promptly signed Lauda.
After spending the early 1970s in the doldrums, Ferrari were resurgent in 1974 and the team's faith in the little known Austrian was quickly rewarded with a 2nd place finish in his debut for the team in the Argentine Grand Prix. He followed this with his first GP win in his fourth race for Ferrari, ending a 2 year winless streak for the famous team. Lauda and Ferrari became the pacesetters that season, which included a run of 6 consecutive pole positions. A mixture of unreliability and inexperience limited Lauda to just one more win however, and a 4th place finish in the final standings.
Returning refreshed for 1975 Lauda was ready to build on the flashes of brilliance he displayed in his first year at Ferrari. After a slow start which yielded nothing higher than a 5th place finish in the opening 4 races of the year, Lauda and Ferrari came good, winning 4 races out of the next 5. A win in the final race of the year at the United States Grand Prix cemented Lauda's first World Championship.
In 1976, Lauda continued where he left off the previous year, and finished no lower than 2nd in the first 6 races of the year, which included 4 wins. After the 9th race of the year at Brands Hatch, Lauda had scored a total of 61 points in the World Champinship, more than double his closest challenger, Jody Scheckter. A second consecutive title appeared a formality, a feat not achieved since 1959-60 by Jack Brabham.
However, in the following race at the fearsome Nurburgring Lauda suffered severe injuries, including horrific burns, in a crash at the German Grand Prix . Near death, he was administered the last rites by a priest. Despite this he made a miraculous return to the cockpit just six weeks after his accident and sensationally finished 4th at the Italian Grand Prix. In his enforced absence Englishman James Hunt had slashed his points lead, and heading into the final race of the year, the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway Lauda held a slim 3 point advantage over Hunt. In dangerously wet conditions Lauda retired after 2 laps, stating that he felt it was unsafe to continue under these conditions. Hunt led much of the race before a late puncture dropped him down the order. He recovered to 3rd, thus winning the title by a single point.
Lauda's previously good relationship with Ferrari was severely affected by his decision to withdraw from the race, and he endured a difficult 1977 season, despite easily winning the championship through consistency rather than outright pace. Having announced his decision to quit Ferrari at season's end, Lauda left early due to the team's decision to run the then unknown Gilles Villeneuve in a third car at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Having joined Brabham in 1978, Lauda endured two unsuccessful seasons, notable mainly for his one race in a radical design which used fan-assisted aerodynamics. The vehicle won its only race and was then promptly banned. At the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix, Lauda informed Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone that he wished to retire immedieately, as he had no more desire to "drive around in circles." Lauda, who had founded a charter airline, returned to Austria to run the company full-time.
But in 1982 Lauda returned to racing, feeling that he still had a career in Formula One. After a successful test with McLaren, the only problem was in convincing then team sponsor Marlboro that he was still capable of winning. Lauda proved he was still quite capable when, in his third race back, he won the Long Beach Grand Prix. Lauda would win a third world championship in 1984 by one-half point over teammate Alain Prost.
He returned to running his airline, Lauda Air, on his retirement in 1985. Ousted by boardroom politics after a sale to majority partner Austrian Airlines in 1999, he managed the Jaguar Formula One racing team 2001-2002. In late 2003, he started a new airline, Niki.
As a driver, Lauda was renowned for his clear-headed approach to driving, minimising risk whilst maximising results, and ruthless self-interest. Lauda is considered one of the most accomplished test drivers in the sport, often working long hours refining his car's performance.
Niki Lauda is the author of four books; The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving (1975), My Years With Ferrari (1977), (1984), and Meine Story (1986). Lauda credits Austrian journalist Herbert Volker with editing the books.
Lauda is sometimes known by the rather uncomplimentary nickname "the rat".
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