Niki Lauda has one of the most famous names and faces in the world of Formula One. A legacy not only of his horrific fiery crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, but also of his success as a driver and businessman. He won two world championships in the 1970s, retired from racing to set up his own airline, and then returned to the cockpit to capture a third title.
Lauda comes from a wealthy Viennese background, and traded on his family name to secure loans that allowed him to go racing against his father’s wishes. He made his F1 debut at his home GP in 1971 at the wheel of a March, and drove a full season with the team the following year. For 1973 he moved to BRM, and for the first time in his racing career was paid to drive rather than vice versa. In uncompetitive machinery he produced impressive performances and was snapped up by Ferrari for the ’74 campaign.
His first win came three races into his Ferrari career, and he went on to finish fourth in the championship. It all went right for the Austrian the following season, and he took five wins on his way to the title. He looked set to repeat his success in 1976, when he crashed with near fatal consequences at the daunting Nurburgring. Miraculously he was back in action after missing just two races, and went into the final round of the championship with a slender points lead. His brave decision to withdraw from the race due to dangerous wet conditions handed the title to James Hunt, but Lauda regained his crown in 1977.
He left Ferrari for Brabham, but became disillusioned with F1 and retired midway through 1979 to set up LaudaAir. However, three years later he was back in F1 with McLaren. Two wins came during his comeback season, and in 1984 he took his third world championship by the narrowest of margins, half a point.
At the end of the 1985 season Lauda retired from F1 for the second time. He built his airline into a serious international operation, and in 1992 he returned to Ferrari to act as a consultant. He left the team and F1 again five years later.
LaudaAir was taken over by Austrian Airlines in 2001. He managed the Jaguar Formula One racing team from 2001 to 2002. In late 2003, he started a new airline, Niki. Lauda holds a commercial pilot's license and from time to time acts as a captain on the flights of his airline.
In September 2012 he was appointed non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team. He took part in the negotiations of signing Lewis Hamilton to a three-year deal with AMG Mercedes.
Niki has written five books. He credits Austrian journalist Herbert Volker with editing the books.