Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda (born February 22, 1949) is an Austrian former Formula One racing driver and three-time F1 World Champion.
More recently an aviation entrepreneur, he has founded and run two airlines and was manager of the Jaguar Formula One racing team for two years. He is currently working as a pundit for German TV during Grand Prix weekends and acts as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.
Lauda was born in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy family. His paternal grandfather was the Viennese-born businessman Hans Lauda.
Lauda became a racing driver despite his family’s disapproval. After starting out with a Mini, Lauda moved on into Formula Vee, as was normal in Central Europe, but rapidly moved up to drive in private Porsche and Chevron sports cars.
His career seemed to be going nowhere in particular until he took out a large bank loan, secured by a life insurance policy, to buy his way into the fledgling March team as a Formula Two (F2) driver in 1971. Because of his family’s disapproval he had an ongoing feud with his family over his racing ambitions and abandoned further contact.
He was quickly promoted to the F1 team and drove for March in both F1 and F2 in 1972. Although the F2 cars were good (and Lauda’s test-driving skills impressed March principal Robin Herd), March’s 1972 F1 season was catastrophic and Lauda, in despair and deep debt, briefly contemplated suicide but finally took out yet another bank loan to buy his way into the BRM team in 1973.
Lauda was instantly quick but the team was in decline; his big break came when his BRM team-mate Clay Regazzoni rejoined Ferrari in 1974 and team owner Enzo Ferrari asked him what he thought of Lauda. Regazzoni spoke favourably of Lauda, so Ferrari promptly went and signed him, paying Niki enough to clear his debts.
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