Niki Lauda’s Comeback
Nicholas Andreas Lauda: six weeks after he was given the last rites of the Catholic church, appeared at the Autodromo di Monza, near Milan, not to spectate but to race his Ferrari in the 1976 Italian Grand Prix. His arrival was greeted at first with amazement, then with misgivings. On one hand, this heroic return from his death bed was an act of outstanding courage never before seen in racing.
It was 1st August 1976, a decisive day for Lauda, not only triggering the firestorm for one of the most thrilling world championship denouements in sporting history, but also forming the epic backdrop from which, through his own sheer resilience and bravery, he was able to craft his legacy as one of sport’s greatest heroes.
On lap two of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Lauda’s Ferrari crested a left-hand kink before inexplicably slamming rightwards into an earth bank. The impact knocked the unconscious Lauda’s helmet from his head, leaving him powerless to extricate himself from the damaged car, which had slewed to a halt in the middle of the track and burst into flames.
Lauda was treated for serious smoke inhalation and left scarred for life by the searing burns to his head.
When Niki, who had outqualified both his Ferrari team mates, took off his helmet after the race, his balaclava was soaked in blood. The wounds from his still healing burns had opened up during an astonishing comeback that had exceeded all expectations.
And that one race elevated Niki Lauda to the status of a legend, the man who had raced against death and defeated it only to come back and race again in an era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous.