The bad guys have won again. The vaunted Silver Arrows clinched the Constructors’ World Championship last weekend in Austin, Texas. As a 10% owner and non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team, Niki Lauda, has won yet another championship. But who is Niki Lauda? Where did he come from and how did he become the racing legend that he is today? Let’s dig in.
This story begins in a little town called Vienna. Born on February 22, 1949, Niki Lauda was immediately thrust into a life of privilege and luxury. Niki was the grandson of the great businessman Hans Lauda and son of Ernst-Peter and Elisabeth Lauda. The Lauda family had great expectations for Niki and were extremely disappointed when he began to show interest in racing. In fact, Lauda had to cut off contact with his family entirely during the early years of his career.
By age 20 Lauda was firmly entrenched in auto sport. His first car had been a Mini, but he quickly graduated to Formula Vee (open wheel, single-seater junior motor racing) and not long after into private Porsche and Chevron cars. But junior tours and private cars weren’t enough for Lauda. He had a taste for greatest and set his sights on Formula One. To that end, Lauda went to the bank and took out a 30,000 pound personal loan. He was going to pay his way.
The first team to accept his money was March Engineering. In 1971, March took Lauda on as a Formula Two driver. Lauda’s talent was evident from the start, and March had no choice but to promote Lauda to the Formula One team. The team was mediocre at best, however, and Niki was soon looking for a way out. Not only did he want a seat, but he wanted a seat in a fast car. How did he do that? Took out another bank loan of course.
This time Lauda bought his way onto the BRM team. Again, Lauda was quick but the team let him down. Lauda raced all 15 rounds for BRM but finished no higher than 5th. Then came his big break. Following the 1973 season, Lauda’s BRM teammate, Clay Regazzoni, left for greener pastures at Ferrari. When Enzo Ferrari asked Regazzoni his thoughts on Lauda, Regazzoni couldn’t help but admit that Lauda was a transcendent talent. The rest is history.