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Champion Snapshot - Niki Lauda 28 Jul 2004

(L to R): Niki Lauda (AUT) RTL Commentator; Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams; Willi Weber (GER) Agent.
Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 7 March 2004

Austrian, 22/09/1949, World Champion 1975/77/84

Lauda remains one of the greatest racing drivers to grace Formula One racing, a man defined by his hunger to succeed, courage and self confidence - who managed to rise above enormous adversity to compete at the top flight of Formula One racing throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet Lauda was a late developer. He displayed little promise as a driver before he got to Formula One, and when he first arrived in the sport in 1971, driving a privately entered March Ford, few reckoned that he would go very far. They reckoned wrong, Lauda matured at great speed into a highly intelligent, strategically minded racer. In 1973 he moved to BRM and then in 1974 he found himself with Ferrari. Despite two victories in Spain and the Netherlands he only managed to finish the drivers' championship in fourth place, but a convincing title victory followed in 1975 thanks to visits to the top step of the podium in Monaco, Belgium, Sweden, France and the USA.

Lauda looked well set to make it two in a row in 1976, winning five races in the early part of the season. His commanding lead was 61 points to nearest rival Jody Scheckter's 30 after the British Grand Prix - and few would have bet against the Austrian retaining his crown. It was not to be, of course. Lauda was involved in a hideous accident at the old Nurburgring circuit in Germany in which, trapped in his burning car, he very nearly died. Remarkably he recovered quickly enough to compete in the Italian Grand Prix, just six weeks later. He eventually lost the championship in controversial circumstances to James Hunt at the final race of the season in Japan - Lauda retiring in the appalling rainswept conditions as he could not see properly with his recently injured eyes.

In 1977 he did succeed in regaining the Championship with Ferrari, though. Lauda retired from Formula One racing at the end of 1979 and invested his energies into creating his airline, Lauda Air. But he was tempted back by an offer from McLaren in 1982 and took up top-flight racing again. He was soon right back on his old pace and took another drivers' championship in 1984, beating Alain Prost by just half a point. He retired from racing for good at the end of the 1985 season.

Since then he has been involved in Formula One racing as an advisor to the Ferrari team and as the former head of Ford's Premier Performance Division, which included management of the Jaguar Racing team - a role he left at the end of the 2002 season.