It’s a story so remarkable it has to take centre-stage in every piece written about Niki Lauda’s death, and the DDP is no different. During the 1976 German Grand Prix, 29-year-old Lauda was looking to gain an advantage on his rival for that year’s Drivers’ Championship (and his rival in life) James Hunt. Instead, he hit a bank at high speed, fell unconscious, and slowly began burning to death inside his car. His injuries were so bad that he was given last rites and not expected to make it through the night.
He returned to Formula 1 racing six weeks later, missing only two races. His wounds were still weeping, he refused any ear surgery as it would delay his comeback and his balaclava had to be torn off as it kept sticking to his still-repairing skin. And he didn’t even win the Driver’s Championship that year.
A three-time World Champion, his rivalry with Hunt was made into the critically acclaimed movie Rush. He was still a non-executive chairman of Mercedes F1 at the time of his death and was seen as Lewis Hamilton’s mentor within the organisation. Except I think Lauda paid his taxes.