Advertisement

Niki Lauda: racing hero and serial entrepreneur

Niki Lauda was a legend in Formula One racing and a pretty formidable dealmaker and entrepreneur, too. His life is a testimony to the power of the will and of single-mindedness. Jane Lewis reports.

949_MW_P29_Profile
826760832

It is hard to believe Niki Lauda is dead, says Jonathan McEvoy in the Daily Mail. He was "the motor-racing legend who for so long had simply refused to die". Yet he has finally succumbed to the long-term effects of the horrific accident that "by all rights of reason should have killed him 43 years ago" when he swerved off the track at Nurburgring and "sat trapped inside his Ferrari as it burst into a fireball".

Advertisement - Article continues below

Lauda who was 70 when he died in his sleep eight months after lung-transplant surgery survived in 1976 and, through sheer will power, returned to racing at the Italian Grand Prix a mere 40 days after his accident. It was "arguably the greatest comeback in the history of sport". He went on to win two more world drivers' championships, later becoming a sought-after TV commentator "known for his unapologetic views", says Bloomberg. In Austria he was considered a national hero.

Far more than a boy-racer

Instantly recognisable in a trademark baseball cap that hid his burns, Lauda was a fixture of the Formula One establishment all his life, taking consulting and managerial roles with the Jaguar, Ferrari and Mercedes teams. He served as chairman of the latter, mentoring drivers including four-time champion Lewis Hamilton. What is less well-known, perhaps, is what a force this extraordinary man was in the aviation industry, too.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Over the course of a career spanning 40 years, Lauda started three different airlines starting with Lauda Air in 1979. He later sold that at profit to Austrian Airlines and formed Niki a budget carrier he managed to sell twice, "the last time to Ryanair". These timely exits "solidified Lauda's reputation as a clever dealmaker", but he could run an outfit too. "In an industry awash with money-losing companies," Lauda was notably profitable.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Far from being a just a boy-racer with a sideline, Lauda was a disruptive force a calculating, tough entrepreneur who "left a lasting impression on the European aviation industry", says skift.com. According to one senior executive who knew him, "he was always eager to found a new airline to show the big ones that a small company [can do] it much better". A rare example of someone who excelled in two fields, Lauda's own take on the matter was that while motor racing was more "dangerous", running an airline was "the most difficult job in the world". The low point in his career came in 1991 when a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand, killing 223 people.

An iron will

Born in Vienna in 1949, the son of a wealthy mill-owner, "Lauda struggled from the start to realise his racing dream", which was triggered when he attended his first race as a teenager, says The Times. "He was disowned by his father when he told him he wanted to become a racing driver instead of joining the family business." Without parental support, "Lauda borrowed heavily" and "hustled for drives", eventually securing his first F1 berth for the March team in 1972. Back then, many were unimpressed. "Slim and small in stature, with protruding rabbit teeth'", Lauda seemed to lack the machismo of the archetypal racing driver, epitomised by his arch-rival, and, later, friend, James Hunt. "Nobody thought of him as a future world champion," says his first boss at March, Max Mosley. Yet Lauda's appearance belied "an iron will and singlemindedness" and he built a reputation as a driver who could combine "consistent speed" with "an excellent working knowledge of mechanical engineering" and an analytical brain.

"I believe in living a life that involves a lot of risk," Lauda once concluded. "If you don't take risks, you can't ever expect it to be a success. It would all be far too boring."

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting
People

Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting

A lifelong obsession with gambling helped make Stuart Wheeler his fortune. By using that to back the Brexit campaign, he changed the face of British p…
2 Aug 2020
Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading
People

Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading

Joe Nacchio, CEO of telecoms firm Qwest, was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading in 2007 and served four years in prison.
30 Jul 2020
Philip Day: the retail knight falls off his horse
People

Philip Day: the retail knight falls off his horse

Retail baron Philip Day, once seen as the saviour of the British high street, is under fire for holding to a monastic silence as his suppliers struggl…
26 Jul 2020
Tony Pidgley: the Master Builder leaves the stage
People

Tony Pidgley: the Master Builder leaves the stage

Berkeley’s Tony Pidgley, who has died aged 72, was a genius who transformed the housebuilding industry, says Max King
24 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Gold bugs' dreams are coming true – but we could still see a V-shaped recovery
Gold

Gold bugs' dreams are coming true – but we could still see a V-shaped recovery

John and Merryn talk about how it's perfectly reasonable to expect a V-shaped recovery and to continue holding gold as well. Plus, inflation, staycati…
30 Jul 2020
UK banks have had a shocking week – so it’s probably a good time to buy
UK stockmarkets

UK banks have had a shocking week – so it’s probably a good time to buy

Lloyds Bank reported a £676m loss this week. And, with all of the UK's high street banks having a terrible time of things, bank stocks are detested ri…
31 Jul 2020
The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 
Global Economy

The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 

As gold surges past its previous high, John Stepek looks at how it's affected the charts that matter most to the global economy.
1 Aug 2020