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Niki Lauda - 1949-2019

Tuesday, May 21 2019

I was terribly saddened today to hear of Niki Lauda's death. Niki was a true icon of the sport, and even if the word legend has become overused in the modern era, I can't emphasise enough how worthy Niki was of that term.

Niki won the last of his three F1 World Championships in 1984, as I was contesting my first full season, and we ran into each other numerous times over the following years as he worked on-and-off in F1 in other roles.

Niki was a tremendous driver, and perhaps one who is underrated when compared to the sport's other triple world champions. He was particularly terrific at our very own Brands Hatch circuit where he won three World Championship Grands Prix - more than any other driver. Niki enjoyed success at some of our other venues too, including Oulton Park where he won in 1972 on his way to the British F2 crown.

For many reading this, I'm certain that you remember Niki best for his role in the epic 1976 season when he raced against our own British hero James Hunt. The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit hosted one of the more dramatic acts of that summer as Niki was awarded the victory in controversial circumstances after James beat him on track.

What followed was a story that has been told many times, as he recovered from life-changing injuries in an accident at the Nurburgring to take his title fight with Hunt right down to the wire in the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji. Indeed, we were delighted that Brands Hatch, Snetterton, and Cadwell Park were all used as filming venues for Ron Howard's Rush movie which told the story of that 1976 season.

After claiming his second world title a year later in 1977, Niki walked away from Ferrari, and ultimately the sport before returning in 1982 with McLaren. He really was the sport's comeback king.

Niki was more than just a driver too, with interests outside the sport including business and flying. His colourful character ensured he was often a popular choice as a television pundit, and we're led to believe that his charisma was key to persuading Lewis Hamilton that he should join Mercedes - and we all know how well that has gone!

To say that Niki Lauda was a unique character would be an understatement. He was a giant of the sport, whose like we're unlikely to see again.

Jonathan Palmer