In 1974, his first year with Prancing Horse, Lauda scored the first of his 26 F1 victories.
He, as well as teammate Clay Regazzoni, with good cars
under them, challenged for the championship. Lauda took it in his second year with the team in a car that was technically far superior to any of the competition. He had 5 wins and a huge margin over second place. Niki called 1975 "the unbelievable year."
But things must go wrong in motor races as well. Especially in these years cars didn’t come with mono-cocks and other life saving safety features yet racing involved powerful machines carrying extraordinary levels of kinetic energy. So when something does go wrong, people could get badly hurt or killed. Niki Lauda suffered severe injuries in the 1976 German Grand Prix at the old Nurburgring, in the process setting up what may have been the most dramatic championship that F1 has yet seen.
Lauda had taken a significant early lead in the points despite having cracked ribs as a result of rolling a tractor while mowing his Salzburg property.
F1's reigning playboy, James Hunt, was more than 20 points down to the Austrian by the German Grand Prix.
Lauda's Ferrari unexplainably swerved off to the right, impacted an embankment, bounced back across the track, was collected by Brett Lunger and caught fire. Several drivers including Lunger, Guy Edwards and a fearless Arturo Merzario managed to extract Lauda from the burning wreck. Although he was able to stand after the accident, it soon became evident that his injuries were grave.
Hot, toxic gases had damaged the inside of his lungs and his blood. His helmet had come partially adrift and he had suffered severe burns to his head. He lapsed into a coma. For a period of time his life was despaired of. However, he rallied and, in a show of courage that is difficult to overstate, was back in a Ferrari cockpit at speed six weeks after the accident (he later revealed that at the time he was virtually petrified with fear).
Lauda's return to competition at Monza produced an amazing 4th place and 3 points. An impressive run in both North American races pulled Hunt to within 3 points of Lauda with only Fuji left on the calendar. The race started in a monumental downpour, and after 2 laps Lauda abandoned saying it was crazy to drive in such conditions. He was probably correct, but he was probably also still affected by his Nurburgring accident. In the event, the rain soon slacked, and Hunt finished third despite a late tire change, collecting 4 points to take the title.
In 1977 Lauda cruised to his second championship with Ferrari despite winning only 3 races. After some bad seasons, 2 years of hibernating from F1 and starting his airline business Niki returned in 1982 for, by his own admission, financial reasons and signed up with Ron Dennis and McLaren to partner John Watson for plenty of money.
It didn't take long for him to reacquaint himself with winning. At Long Beach he won in only his third race since returning. He also won at Brands Hatch that season. '83 was a no win year but '84 ended with Lauda back at the top of F1. He won the '84 championship by a mere 1/2 pt.
His second and final departure from F1, at Adelaide in 1985, was typical of his whole approach to racing and to life - quick, with no frills and no glance over the shoulder. He was flying his McLaren down the long straight when his front brakes had failed him and he was skittering into the runoff area and up against the wall. The next after that he was out of his car disappearing behind the barrier without a look back and with the next flight out on his mind.
Niki Lauda is still into airline business and a F1 commentator for a German TV station. The red cap he's been wearing since after his accident became his trademark.