The world has lost one of the all-time great Formula One drivers. Niki Lauda was uniquely passionate about racing, as well as an unapologetic perfectionist who devoted his whole life to the sport that enthralled him.
A recent film (called Rush) even revisited the legendary battle for the 1976 drivers’ championship between Lauda and British driver James Hunt, who would ultimately edge him out for the title. That battle would also take a terrible health toll on Niki Lauda when he was badly injured and severely burned in an accident.
That toll would be felt for years in the form of a fragile state of health. The Austrian-born driver underwent two kidney transplants in 1997 and then again in 2005; in August 2018, he received a new lung. And there were more interventions beyond those.
Niki Lauda was 70 years old, and by looking at him you could have given him 20 years more. As good as car racing was to him, car racing was also the end of him, in small doses, in the years and decades after he was nearly burned to death in his Ferrari, 43 years ago.
A look at the numbers, meanwhile, show us just how successful Niki Lauda was as a driver, health issues or no: three championships (1975, 1977 and 1984), the last of them after McLaren coaxed him out of retirement in 1982.
He will be remembered as the real thing. Without taking anything away from the current generation of F1 drivers, those who raced in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and even in to the early 90s, were, according to general consensus, certifiably mad. These were people willing to hurl themselves along the track in what were virtually ambulant coffins. These were people who knew how to live only one way: at 200 mph.
And these were people we admired greatly, because madness can be a beautiful thing indeed.
Thank you, Mr. Lauda.