The Rat and the Aeroplane

Niki Lauda was read the last rites following his horrendous crash at the Nürburgring.

Six weeks later, he raced in the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, otherwise known as the XLVII Gran Premio d’Italia.

Almost a year to the day after his horrifying accident, he produced a strategic performance and claimed victory at Hockenheim.

Niki was born in Vienna on February 22, 1949. He came from an aristocratic family of bankers and started racing against their wishes.

He approached his grandfather for financial assistance; the old man bellowed, ‘Money to go racing with if a Lauda is to be in the newspapers, it should be in the financial pages’.

He approached a competitor bank, pledged a life insurance policy his grandfather had given him, and borrowed £30,000.

The world of F1 was a closed shop and controlled by the financiers. To compete, Niki borrowed significantly.

In 1974, when driving for BRM, he was noticed by Enzo Ferrari, who bought out Niki’s contract and cleared his debts.

In 1978, he joined the Brabham-Alfa Romeo team, much to the anger of Enzo, who called him a ‘traitor’ for joining Bernie Ecclestone’s team.

His racing career is legendary, and he is considered one of the greatest drivers in the history of F1.

A few lesser-known facts: he was known as ‘The Rat’ because of his distinguishing front teeth.

Despite the constant racing rivalry with James Hunt, contrary to news reports, he was great friends with James Hunt off the track.

Following a dispute with a bartender at Vienna International Airport, he bought the complete Hilton Hotel chain.

He was a team owner, author and commentator, a brief movie career and an Airline owner.

Niki held a commercial pilot’s licence and, from time to time, acted as a captain on the flights of his airline.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes a legend.