Born in 1949, Niki Lauda entered the racing world despite disapproval from his wealthy Austrian family, quickly moving up to driving Porsche and Chevron sports cars. While his driving career initially seemed nothing special, he eventually took out a massive loan and bought his way into the Formula Two Mach team in 1971. This escalated his family feud to the point of his abandoning all contact with them…however his career took off as he was promoted to Formula One team in 1972.
Unfortunately, that season’s performance was abysmal, leaving Lauda depressed and in great debt. Before submitting to his despair, Lauda took out a final loan and bought his way into the BRM team in 1973. When a teammate from BRM moved to Ferrari in 1974 and spoke highly of Lauda, Ferrari also brought him on, paying enough to pay off his loans.
The Ferrari team helped launch Lauda to new heights of performance, and he went on to win his first Grand Prix race and achieving World Championship in 1975 at the United States GP.
Lauda left a permanent mark on Nürburgring by becoming the first and only driver to ever complete a lap on the Nordschleife route in under 7 minutes—at a time when Nordschleife was 2 miles longer than its current configuration.
However, Lauda also attempted to boycott the 1976 Nürburgring German Grand Prix race, despite being favored to win. He claimed the course didn’t offer enough proper safety arrangements, and urged drivers to avoid it until modifications could be made. The race went on as scheduled, though, and during his second lap, Lauda’s Ferrari went off the track and rolled, bursting into flames.
Lauda suffered severe injuries from fire and smoke, including extensive burns and scarring, losing most of his right ear and hair, while requiring reconstructive surgery on his eyes. He lapsed into a short coma, but recovered, showing his commitment to the sport by returning to race only six weeks later, still wearing fresh bandages.
He went on to race through two retirements, at which point he went on to a career as an airline manager, racing author, Ferrari racing team consultant, television commentator, and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.