Monaco is the sport’s most glamorous event, and normally cause for huge celebration. But, the F1 paddock was a sombre affair this year… following the death of Niki Lauda on the Monday before the race, aged 70.
The three-time F1 World Champion died peacefully in his sleep, following a period of ill-health that included lengthy hospital stays for a lung transplant and flu infection.
The irreplaceable Austrian leaves behind an enormous legacy…
… as a legend of the sport, one who fought tooth-and-nail not only to get to F1, initially against his family’s wishes – but for his success, stints with March and BRM leading to Ferrari and two titles.
That steely determination also helped Lauda in his darkest hour, following his fiery crash at the 1976 German GP… in which he sustained extensive burns, the Austrian going on to make sport’s greatest-ever comeback just six weeks later at Ferrari’s home event at Monza.
A dramatic chapter later made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, Rush…
He moved to Brabham in 1978, before quitting the sport halfway through the next season. But made a second comeback, with McLaren, in 1982, that led to a third title in a thrilling battle with teammate Alain Prost. The experience bringing out the best in Lauda.
SOUNDBITE (German) NIKI LAUDA,
3-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“I don't look into the past, only what is ahead. I live in the moment and try to take the experiences I made into the future. I won three championships. The one by only a half point difference with McLaren was probably the hardest.”
And while an astute businessman, in founding and developing several airlines, the Austrian was a racer through and through – and after his retirement in 1985, he returned to the paddock in 1993 as an advisor to Ferrari before becoming a short-lived team boss at Jaguar in 2001…
In 2012 - he was made non-executive chairman at the Mercedes team, which was then an emerging force and played a key role in luring Lewis Hamilton from McLaren.
After his passing, the tributes rolled in from all over the world, recognising his character and huge contribution.
SOUNDBITE (French) JACQUES VILLENEUVE,
1997 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“[Niki Lauda] was an iconic character in Formula 1. He marked his era, and he was still important in his field after his career. He was very important politically, especially for Mercedes. He always said what he thought. Not everyone liked that but, thanks to him, some things changed.”
Blunt, ambitious and now forever dancing on the limit…Niki Lauda will be sorely missed, inside and out of the F1 paddock.