Niki Lauda, International Motorsports Hall of Fame Member
Class of 1993
Nicholas van Lauda was born on February 22, 1949, in Vienna, Austria, the son of a successful paper processing executive. Niki grew up driving fork-lifts in family factories, and beginning at age 15, factory trucks in rural Austria. Then, in 1966, he saw the German Grand Prix and soon thereafter started looking for a racing car.
Lauda saw an advertisement for a “race-ready” Mini and contacted the owner, a local hero named Fritz Baumgarten. He offered to trade his street Mini for the racing version and pay the difference when he sold the car. Lauda left the Baumgarten markings on the racing Mini and told his dad that he was only storing it for Fritz. In 1968, he raced the Mini, came in second to Baumgarten, and made the local papers. Discovering his racing, relations were strained for awhile with his parents.
Lauda won four climbs in a row and graduated to a Porsche 911S. In 1969, Lauda left hill climbing and started circuit racing in a Formula Vee. In his first Formula Vee race at Hockenheim, he led much of the race but spun out on the last lap.
Lauda bought his own Porsche 908 which he had success with in Continental races and in his British appearance at Thruxton. He also drove in Formula Two races and in 1971, at the Austrian Grand Prix, made his Formula One debut. In 1972, Lauda went Grand Prix racing and came in 11th at the Argentine Grand Prix opener and 7th in South Africa. He subsequently won the Formula One opener and finished 7th in South Africa.
In 1974 he finished fourth in the Formula One World Championship. In 1975 and ’77 he was the Formula One World Champion. In 1976 at the notorious Nurburgring Germany, Lauda suffered serious burns and was given the last rites. Remarkably, six weeks later he was driving again and at the end of the year Lauda came in just one point behind the champion, James Hunt. From 1974 through 1977, the pinnacle of his career, Lauda drove a Ferrari. He won the championship one last time in 1984. Lauda retired in 1985 to spend more time developing his airline company, Lauda Air.