Triple world champion Niki Lauda celebrates his 61st birthday today!

Despite being famous for his almost permanently worn red Parmalat-sponsored cap, this is a man who has worn many hats during his lengthy motorsport career.

Lauda is the triple World Champion of 1975, 1977 and 1984. Lauda is the Airline magnate.

Lauda is "Lazarus": the man who came back from the dead after his horrific fiery crash at the 1976 German GP that saw him suffer terrible burns and being administered the last rites in hospital.

Lauda is "The Rat": those who recall this buck-toothed Austrian’s arguments with David Purley during the 1977 Belgian GP will remember this well!

Lauda is the successful Ferrari advisor, but the failed Jaguar Team Principal.

When he bought his way into a drive with March in 1971, many pundits happily wrote him off as a talentless pay rent-a-driver.

Yet, just two seasons later, Lauda was impressing in a BRM, and was a Ferrari race-winner by the 1974 season – he almost took the title that year, but won it imperiously the following year.

He led the championship tussle against James Hunt in 1976 before that accident at the Nurburgring. Incredibly he recovered and returned to the grid in less than 6 weeks, and drove heroically, losing the title fight by one point. He rightly retrieved the championship in 1977.

He switched to Brabham for the 1978 season, and quit F1 mid-practice at the 1979 Canadian GP. Having successfully set up his own airline, he returned to F1 with McLaren for the 1982 season, and was a race winner almost instantly. Two seasons later, he would take a third title by just half a point from his team-mate, Prost.

After leaving F1 racing for good at the end of 1985, Lauda returned to his airline operation and was tempted back to F1 in 1992 in a consultancy role with Ferrari.

In 2001, Lauda was appointed as the head of Ford’s Premier Performance Division, which included its Jaguar Racing team and Cosworth engine groups. He continually clashed with then-team boss Bobby Rahal and by mid-season he was essentially running the F1 team himself. Perhaps in a case of kharma, he was ousted from the politically-ridden team at the end of the following season.

In spite of the recent history not being kind to him as his earlier racing years, Lauda has always brought a brutal, almost cynical, frankness to his approach in life, while never losing his sense of humour. This, in spite of the near-death tragedy he suffered, makes him one of my all-time heroes.

Happy birthday, Niki!

[Image via Pit Stop Planet]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.