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“It is with deep sadness that we announce that our beloved Niki fell asleep peacefully on Monday, May 20, 2019 in the midst of his family.” This message arrived via the news ticker in the early hours of this morning, and for a moment it took my breath away — the second time this had happened within 24 hours.
Niki Lauda is dead! The three-time Formula 1 World Champion. My childhood hero. The man to whom the law of mortality somehow didn’t apply (especially after his terrible accident on the Nordschleife in 1976). And now his death has happened after all. Somehow it has been much more unexpected and radical than the accident in the Bergwerk section of the Nordschleife would have been.
A time of heroes
Of course I don’t know what feelings you have when during a quiet moment you remember something that happened in your early childhood. For me, the most dramatic experience of my early childhood was Niki’s accident on the Nürburgring during the Formula 1 season of 1976. Considering that I was only 4½ years old back then, my awareness of that accident could only be called traumatic. Niki Lauda was the shining light of auto racing, not only for my grandparents but also for my godfather (who was a race car driver himself). And then suddenly there was this terrible accident on a section of the race track that seemed much too dangerous even for Niki.
The pictures in the news, the reports in the daily newspapers and the tabloids… these are things you simply never forget. Especially because you never forget that Niki climbed back into his Ferrari only 42 days later — wearing special bandages to protect the parts of his body that had been burned. I wept bitter tears when I saw that, because my hero suddenly looked so vulnerable.
Today these scenes remind me most of all of Niki’s irrepressible will to live — his energy and his conviction that you can do the impossible if you really want to! That’s what Niki was, is, and always will be for me.
There’s no more appropriate field of experimentation than the Formula 1 to test the furthest limits of the possible
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Silver Arrows
Triple World Champion, entrepreneur, host, and then — in an incredible stroke of good luck for our team — the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1.
Together with Niki, we won not only five Drivers’ Championships but also the Constructors’ Championship five times in a row. In my opinion, there’s no greater achievement in this sport. And it shows once again how important it is to know that you’ve got someone as experienced and intelligent as Niki on your team.
In our team he was known as always completely outspoken, he clearly pointed out our sore spots, was brutally honest to absolutely everyone, and thus incited people to deliver top performance. In our sport, these qualities are irreplaceable.
In May 2018 I had the personal opportunity to meet him — or, to be precise, to observe him. I’ve never been shy about meeting famous people from the fields of sports, business, and entertainment. After all, they’re only human.
By contrast, I was awestruck by Niki Lauda, and I spent a whole weekend without being able to work up the courage to walk over to him, shake his hand, and thank him for all the fantastic moments in motorsports with which he had enriched my life.
Today I regret that very much, because if I had done so I would probably have found out that Niki too was “only” a man.
But what a man!