They called him The Rat, or in some cases, The Computer. Feed in parameters about vehicle dynamics and the eccentricities of a race course, and he’d spit out a perfect lap. Again and again, under any conditions. And this was before a Formula 1 Ferrari nearly killed him at the treacherous Nurburgring.
Niki Lauda, one of the greatest natural talents to ever strap into a racing car, has died at the age of 70. He was recently undergoing treatment for injuries still related to his near-fatal 1976 accident. Lauda had been treated for pneumonia, undergone a lung transplant, and despite having been the recipient of two transplanted kidneys, was forced to undergo dialysis. The non-executive chairman of the Petronas-Mercedes team in Formula 1 had already been a world champion the year before his August 1st, 1976, impact with an embankment at the Nurburgring that sent his flaming car into the path of competitor Brett Lunger. Along with drivers Harald Ertl, Arturo Merzario and Guy Edwards, Lunger pulled Lauda from the burning wreckage. The toxic fumes damaged Lauda’s lungs, however, and as this Daimler photo demonstrates, his burns left him terribly disfigured. Regardless, Lauda was back in the cockpit three weeks later, and went on to win two more F1 titles along with 25 career victories. An inspirational presence, he also founded a self-named airline. Niki Lauda was a genius of a driver and will be sorely missed.