We have all seen Rush and the tale of Niki Lauda’s incredible recovery. There is no doubting that the story is extraordinary.
After his near-fatal accident at the Nurburgring in 1976, many wondered if the original Lauda, a no nonsense Austrian, would resurface. However, the 1975 champion proved them wrong, returning to his cockpit a mere six weeks after arriving in intensive care.
Monza played host to his comeback Grand Prix, the balaclava beneath the helmet masking his permanent scarring. Putting on his helmet was a physically painful experience but the tough Austrian was not to be deterred. His rivalry with James Hunt spurred him on as he qualified fifth in the Ferrari. Hunt, not always the most reliable of drivers, qualified down in twenty-seventh.
‘What might entice Lauda back?’ you may be asking. His championship lead was in jeopardy and only a return could ensure title glory. Before the 1976 Italian Grand Prix, Lauda was forced to watch from hospital bed as Hunt closed down the advantage. One can only imagine the feeling.
After Monza, and what was a very measured drive, an impressive fourth place finish ensured that just six separated the title contenders.
At a rain-sodden Fuji, the circuit almost unrecognisable behind the heavy rain, the plaudits belonged to Hunt the playboy, the man who took the 1976 World Drivers’ title by the narrowest of margins. Just one point, then equivalent to sixth place, cost the returning champ a second consecutive title. Content with his one moment of glory, Hunt retired shortly after putting to an end his on-track rivalry with Lauda.
While racing at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, on this day in 1976, Niki Lauda defied the odds to return to the cockpit in the emotive of circumstances. His comeback is proof that there is an awful lot more to racing than simply driving, psychology and a willingness to succeed separates the champions from the back markers. Lauda is certainly a champion and one of the most renowned at that.
“There are more important things in life than the world championship, like staying alive.”
– Niki Lauda