Some of the most poignant moments of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series are the tributes to motorsport great Niki Lauda .
In recent years he played a key role in turning Mercedes from a team struggling for podiums to the most dominant team F1 has ever seen, winning six consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
His most famous act as Mercedes F1’s non-executive chairman was to help entice Lewis Hamilton away from McLaren ahead of the 2013 season.
But long before that Lauda himself was a formidable racing driver who won three world championships between 1975 and 1984.
He also pulled off one of sport’s most incredible comebacks, returning to the wheel of his Ferrari just 40 days after nearly burning to death in a fiery crash at Germany’s terrifying Nurburgring circuit.
The 1976 Formula 1 season has gone down as one of the most exciting in F1 history, with Lauda and his Ferrari team taking on Britain’s James Hunt and McLaren for the championship.
On lap two of that year’s German Grand Prix – held on the 14-mile, 160-corner Nurburgring – Lauda’s Ferrari veered off at high speed before catching fire as it bounced off the barriers, back onto the track and into the path of another car.
The impact knocked Lauda’s helmet off and he was trapped in the raging inferno for nearly a minute before being pulled free by his heroic rivals.
The fire left him with third-degree burns to his head and face – he lost much of his right ear, his eyebrows and eyelids, However, it was the damage to his lungs which were a bigger concern as he had inhaled toxic gases while stranded in his car.
“The main damage to myself, was from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the car for about 50 seconds,” Lauda later recalled. “It was something like 800 degrees.”
The tragic irony behind the most memorable moment of Lauda’s life was that it very nearly didn’t happen.
The Austrian had a 31-point lead in the drivers’ championship going into the race, but didn’t believe the daunting Nurburgring was suitable for modern Grand Prix cars. He called for a vote amongst his fellow racers to cancel the race.
He lost by one vote.
Lauda decided to race though and was fighting back through the field from an early pit stop when his Ferrari careered into the barriers.
Despite being awake and talking immediately after the crash, he fell into a coma in hospital. Doctors had to pump the toxic gases out of his lungs while a priest infuriated Lauda by reading him the last rites.
Years later he said: "I got so upset that I put more effort into not dying because of this incident with the priest.”
Legend has it that after waking up Lauda said: "Tell the priest to f*** off, I'm still alive."
Incredibly, less than six weeks after the accident that came within a whisker of killing him, Lauda was driving an F1 car again.
After missing two races he took part in the Italian Grand Prix, finishing an incredible fourth.
His wounds still hadn’t healed properly with blood pouring down his face from soaking bandages whenever he took his helmet off.
The title battle with Hunt went down to the last race in Fuji, Japan, where Lauda – who was the defending champion – quit the race due to the torrential rain. That decision allowed his British rival to take the crown by one point.
However his legacy and determination had already gone down in folklore, and he won two more championships in 1977 and 1984.
The crash also led to Lauda wearing his distinctive red cap, a look that was honoured when F1 drivers donned red caps with ‘NIKI’ on them at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, the first race after his death aged 70.
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