Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda, born 22 February 1949, in Vienna, Austria, is a former Formula One driver and a three-time F1 World Drivers’ Champion, winning in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Two of these three titles were won with Scuderia Ferrari (in 1975 and 1977), as the Austrian is currently the only Formula 1 driver to have been champion for both Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren.
The beginning of the 1970s was a negative period in the history of Scuderia Ferrari, who then constantly improved under the leadership of Luca Montezemolo and were resurgent in the 1974 season, when a young and inexperienced Niki Lauda joined the team and made a strong impact from his race debut, by finishing second in the Argentine Grand Prix. His first Formula One Grand Prix victory – and the first for Scuderia Ferrari since 1972 – followed only three races later in Spain. Lauda continued to impress and managed to score six consecutive pole positions, yet due to the lack of experience and a series of mechanical issues, the young driver scored only one more victory that season, at the Dutch GP and eventually ended up fourth in the overall Drivers’ Championship, but was praised for his driving skills and most importantly for his contribution to testing and significantly improving the Ferrari car.
Niki Lauda, alongside teammate Clay Regazzoni, was outstanding during the next year, as Scuderia Ferrari won the 1975 International Cup for F1 Manufacturers with the 312B3 and the 312T. The Austrian driver won five out of the 14 races and scored other three podium finishes, which was more than enough to make him the 1975 Formula One champion, beating Emerson Fittipaldi from McLaren-Ford and Carlos Reutemann from Brabham-Ford.
The 1976 Formula One season is most likely well-known to everybody, as a result of the dramatic and emotional moments which resulted in the championship fight between Niki Lauda and James Hunt from McLaren-Ford. Although the British racing driver who won the Formula One World Championship that year, Niki Lauda remains the moral champion of the season, winning five of the first nine races and having to miss the Austrian and Dutch Grand Prix due to the terrible accident he suffered at the at the fearsome Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit, when his Ferrari burst into flames and he suffered severe burns to his head.
Niki Lauda and Ferrari had a very good relationship until the last Grand Prix of the 1976 season, when the Austrian driver decided to withdraw from the race due to the torrential rain which made the conditions nearly impossible. His decision meant that the title went to James Hunt and the Niki Lauda – Ferrari partnership thus started to deteriorate. Even in these conditions Lauda managed to win the championship at the end of the 1977 season, mostly due to consistency rather than outright pace (he won only three races, but scored other seven podium finishes). After already confirming his intention of leaving Ferrari, Lauda decided not to race in the last to events of the season, the Canadian Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix, but still finished 17 points ahead of Jody Scheckter from Wolf-Ford in the World Drivers’ Championship final standings.
Years later, Niki Lauda returned to Ferrari as a consultant (1991), being hired by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo in an attempt to bring the Maranello team back in the fight for important results after a difficult period in the Formula One history of the Scuderia.