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Niki Lauda returned to F1 later in his life as a Team Principal briefly in 2001 for the struggling Jaguar team. However, it was his role at Mercedes that elevated his already legendary status.
Lauda became Team Principal for Jaguar in 2001 midway through the season. The aim was to improve parent company Ford’s team’s fortunes in F1. The highlight of the season would come at Monaco. A brilliant P3 for Eddie Irvine saw the team score its first ever podium. Under Lauda’s leadership, Jaguar improved in the standings by one place to P8.
Despite this, Ford fired him at the end of the season. Any meaningful results of his leadership were never to be felt by the team. Ford sold Jaguar to Red Bull at the end of 2004.
Part of the Mercedes dream team
Unable to stay away from the grid, he bought a 10% stake in the Mercedes F1 Team and joined as non-executive chairman. He was a key figure in bringing the then-one-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes. Hamilton has since won six titles overall, four under Lauda’s leadership.
During his time as non-executive chairman, Mercedes won 78 races and won five constructors titles and five drivers titles with Nico Rosberg in 2016 and Hamilton winning 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Valtteri Bottas helped contribute to the 2017 and 2018 titles, winning three races during this time period.
Lauda’s health was ailing for many years; he needed two lung transplants in 1997 and 2005 (after 1997’s failed) and in 2018 he had a successful lung transplant operation. But on 20 May 2019, aged 70 in Switzerland, Niki Lauda passed away.
He was in ill health for multiple months prior but thankfully passed away peacefully. A week later, the Monaco Grand Prix was held. Mercedes wore red caps and splashed some red on the car as a brilliant tribute to Lauda. Lewis Hamilton won that weekend and dedicated his win to Lauda.
A legacy to stand for all time
He is one of the great Austrians alongside Gerhard Berger, President Alexander Van der Bellen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lauda is also deemed as one of the best drivers in Formula One amongst fellow world champions Jackie Stewart, Alain Prost, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Throughout his career he also worked with Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas, who drove under him whilst Lauda was at Mercedes, and Jean Alesi, who worked with Lauda when he had a consultant role at Ferrari.
Many consider Niki Lauda to be one of F1’s greatest racing drivers and his incredible story will, I hope, never be forgotten. I see Niki Lauda as one of F1’s Guardians watching from above with drivers like Jim Clark, Aryton Senna, and Juan Manuel Fangio. To me, he is one of the best of his generation.
Lauda achieved 25 wins, 54 podiums, 24 fastest Laps and 24 pole positions. He is one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. Rest In Peace Niki. We will never forget you for your incredible racing ability and your red cap.
Feature Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter