Inexperienced Formula 1 viewers, looking at the achievements of three-time world champion Niki Lauda in the Big Prizes, may think that the Austrian has experienced his best years in sports as part of Ferrari. But how everything was in fact, and that he had to experience in Maranello, they know not all …
In the history of Niki Lauda, who passed away on Monday, he will remain a pragmatic pragmatist, who has calculated to the last detail his two championship titles in Scuderia in the mid-1970s, like Michael Schumacher three decades later.
But this label, stuck to the titled Austrian, far from fully reflects the essence of this amazing rider with his passion, which is far from being understood by everyone. Analytical mind? Undoubtedly. But also speed. Awesome imagination. Stunning. Nicky was the fastest racer of his time and progressed tirelessly from stage to stage to … the accident at the Nürburgring in 1976.
The horrible event that left an imprint on the face and in the heart of Lauda forever became an integral part of the Legend, but even before this ill-fated day the Austrian managed to forever write his name in the history of Ferrari and Formula 1 as a whole.
Like all the great riders before him, including Fangio, Moss, Clark and Stewart, Niki raised the bar in sports to an unprecedented level. He was perfectly prepared physically and psychologically and, moreover, was fully dedicated to racing, having established himself as an amazing professional.
And 18 poles in 29 races throughout the seasons of 1974-75 speak of his clear superiority over his rivals in his era. And if it were not for the accident in Germany, Niki would hardly have had to wait for 1984 to become a three-time triumphant of Big Prizes.
Of course, Lauda was not alone on the way to the top. Like Schumacher a couple of decades later, he surrounded himself with serious and purposeful people, in dealing with whom his best qualities manifested themselves. An eloquent lawyer behind his back and not taking off points specialist in stamping racing gold next. Without such an environment, Lauda could hardly have succeeded so early.
Luca Cordero di Montezemolo was a man of Gianni Agnelli. The FIAT president landed him in Maranello in 1973, on the eve of one of the characteristic turmoil in Scuderia with a global sweep of rows. In that season, Ferrari almost reached its bottom – in the middle of the championship team riders often could not get into the race through the sieve of qualification, and according to the results of the championship team stopped at the sixth line in the Designer Cup with 12 points against 92 in the championship Lotus.
Luka set to work very zealously, but at the same time – surprisingly – without visible conflict with the "old man" Enzo. The creations of Mauro Forgieri, freed from opals after being transferred to the "experimental department", were ready by August, and in 1974 the team signed a contract with Lauda.
Nicky, like Montezemolo, could boast of his aristocratic roots, but did not like to do this. Very early, he quarreled with his grandfather and, contrary to his exhortations, independently found a sponsor for the debut in Formula 1. Thus, the legendary driver became the most famous “rent-driver”. However, his talent and performance first in March, and then in BRM very quickly washed away this unflattering label from his name.
Ferrari's mustache Giancladio "Clay" Regazzoni knew perfectly well what a formidable force Niki Lauda represents, and he had the courage to tell Enzo about this. Swiss due to the stability of the results and reliability of the equipment was in the lead in the 1974 season and lost the title only in the last race in the fight against McLaren Emerson Fittipaldi. But after that, straightforward and not burdened with an excessive sense of tact of Laud came to the fore in the team.
Literally from the doorway – after the very first tests in Fiorano – a confident Austrian called the Ferrari 312 B3 chassis a “piece of shit”, but to his credit it must be said that he himself, along with Mauro Forgieri, began to correct the shortcomings of the car. By the start of the new season, the modification of the 312 B3-74 acquired the upper air intake periscope, which was fashionable at that time, and the weight of the chassis was completely redistributed along the axes, a kind of wardrobe radiators was added, and the aerodynamics of the chassis was generally improved.
These changes allowed the car Ferrari literally in the blink of an eye and even without changing the base index to turn from a middling peloton into one of the best chassis on the grid. Nine poles in the season is proof of that, but at the finish Niki was only twice able to climb the highest step of the podium, which confirmed the team in the thought of the need for further refinement of the car.
Anyway, the next season (1975) was the year of Niki – of course, not without the help of Forgieri with his next brilliant chassis 312T.
But back to basics. Having arrived in Maranello for the first time, Lauda wondered why this team did not win titles one by one, given their incredible resources and technical capabilities. Like John Surtis before him, the Austrian learned that the peculiarities of the Italian mentality are capable of annihilating even the most successful undertaking. But Niki was lucky – he was favored and protected by Montezemolo. Approximately 20 years later, a similar situation in Maranello repeated with Schumacher and Jean Todt.
One of the iconic decisions of Luke in those years was the complete closure of the Ferrari sportscar program. This led to the fact that the once dominant team in Le Mans lost its factory representation in the legendary race and has not gained it since.
Di Montezemolo considered that the sports car program diverted the company's resources and attention from Formula 1. Luka firmly knew what had to be done, and the success that had come to Scuderia through the years proved the correctness of such a radical approach.
In addition, a significant contribution to the success of Ferrari by Luke was that he freed Forgieri from other obligations, freeing him time for what he was a true professional. The result was the appearance of the chassis 312T, and after him a whole chain of magnificent red cars. The next successful segment in terms of production of the dominant chassis in the Scuderia came only in the 90s – with the arrival of the team Rory Burne.
The letter T in the chassis index meant “Trasversale”, which means “cross” in Italian – it was this feature that allowed the team to dominate confidently in the 1975 season and eventually provided Ferrari with three championship titles.
In an attempt to counteract the polar moment of inertia of the section, which determined the concept of chassis design before the era of the ground effect, Fargieri concluded that the transverse arrangement of the gearbox in conjunction with a 12-cylinder engine surpassing at least 20 hp from Cosworth V8, should provide chassis performance boost.
Lauda had already had similar experiences with March and was extremely suspicious of this undertaking, but in the end, he decided to trust Mauro, and his intuition did not let him down. The car was one of the best in the history of the team from Maranello.
As for the season, Nicky started it with an uncertain fifth and sixth places behind the wheel of last year's B3. The new car debuted at the third stage of the championship in South Africa, but not too successfully. Fifth place Lauda at the finish blew up the Italian press, but Forgieri remained calm.
The first triumph came to a new chassis at the extraordinary stage of the Silverstone International Trophy, where Niki Lauda defeated Emerson Fittipaldi at McLaren with a difference of one tenth of a second. For the 312T chassis, this was just the beginning.
In the next stage of the championship in Spain, the Austrian took the pole, but that weekend in Montjuic Park was overshadowed by tragedy – the accident of Ralph Stommelen on Hill led to the death of five spectators. The girl of Lauda Mariella Reininghaus openly accused her chosen one and his fellow pilots of the fact that they even started the race, despite the fears of the teams that the bolts in the railings were badly screwed. For Nicky, the race ended on the first lap due to an accident.
Victories in Monaco, Belgium and Sweden, obtained in a row, made Lauda the main contender for the title by mid-summer, and failures in the end of the season did not prevent him from winning the coveted trophy. In fact, the Austrian celebrated a victory in the championship at the penultimate stage in Monza, judiciously finishing third.
Nothing that solved the race in Watkins-Glen Lauda won by winning the championship with an unprecedented 19.5 points away from Fittipaldi.
If to compare with the dominant period of Schumacher at Ferrari in the future, it was not the strongest season for the team, but for its time, the duet Nicky with Scuderia looked amazing. Who or what could prevent them from repeating their success in 1976?
In 1975, James Hunt in Zandworth won the race in full-time competition with Lauda, speaking for the modest Hesketh Racing. A year later, the shaggy female pet has already joined McLaren after Emerson’s strange decision to leave the team.
Hunt, of course, was a more gifted pilot than many believe, but is he capable of equal fight with McLaren against Ferrari Lauda?
The answer to this question is too obvious for knowledgeable fans to voice it. James rushed into the Big Prizes swiftly and under the screams of a heated audience. In the year when punk blew world culture, a disheveled youth literally brought Formula 1 out of a narrow audience of technically savvy fans to the public. Thus, the season 1976 was a turning point for F1 in several aspects at once.
If it were not for the terrible accident at the Nurburgring, would Hunt be able to eliminate the decent deficit of points and fight Lauda for the title? There is no point in asking this question. It is important that Nicky and his loyal fans realized that summer there is something in life more valuable than world titles.
The heroic return of the Austrian behind the wheel of a car in just a few weeks and his decision to abandon the fight in the final race of the season in Fuji with zero visibility once again demonstrates the true spirit of this great champion.
For Ferrari in this story with the accident in Nürburg it was only important that they lost the combat racer. The cockpit was empty. The authority of Lauda immediately disappeared, but more importantly, that Ferrari again returned to their old habits.
Immediately after the terrible accident in Maranello, not believing in the possibility of quickly restoring his rider, they entered into an agreement with Carlos Royteman, and after returning to Niki and his refusal to continue the race in Japan, he was hailed by a hail of criticism.
Yes, the Austrian remained in the Scuderia, and even brought them another championship in 1977, but the old grievances are not forgotten, and in the heart of Nicky was lurking the thirst for revenge, which took place after many years – already in the position of non-executive director of Mercedes
Translated and adapted material: Alexander Ginko