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1.8.1976: Niki Lauda badly injured
The pictures that Niki Lauda described originate from 1st August 1976, the Formula One race at the Nuerburgring. For years before the accident experts had discussed circuits safety standards. On this day modern racecars proved that they had indeed become too fast for the fifty-year-old track. After the accident, Formula One races on the Nuerburgring were banned and the circuit was renovated.

Even as a kid, Nikolaus Andreas Lauda loved cars more than anything else. At 15 he already owned one and at 19 he competed in his first race. The Austrian didn’t last long in school - he forged his school-leaving certificate with a friend.

"He fiddled around with it for so long that you could see from miles away that it was a fake," Lauda said. "All the same, I marched defiantly home, showed it briefly; the school-leaving certificate that is, then packed it away immediately. Mother kissed me, and my father was happy."

Niki Lauda was free to devote himself to motor racing. At the age of 21 he went into Formula One. Four years later he became world champion for the first time. The following season also started well, Lauda again drove in starting position. On 1 August 1976 Lauda started the Nuerburgring race. On the Nordschleife, which was frequently criticised as being dangerous, the suspension on his 500 HP Ferrari collapsed. His colleague Harald Ertl was also involved in the accident.

"Lauda spun, I don’t know how it happened," Ertl said. "Niki was in the catch fencing on the right, and then slid back onto the track, Brett Lunger couldn’t avoid it and collided with him. And then the car slid straight across the track, and again I also slid into the stationary car as I couldn’t stop when Niki’s car was flung back and caught fire.”

Niki Lauda sat unconscious for 40 long seconds in his burning Ferrari. He lost his helmet during the impact. Colleagues finally freed him from the wreck. His face was badly burned and a part of his right ear was missing. He broke numerous bones and cauterised his lungs. But Niki Lauda fought for his life.

"At that time I attempted to focus on the doctors who were talking to me all the time. The only thing I could do, was to listen intently to what they said, in order to remain somehow mentally on the ball, and so not to fall asleep,” said Lauda.

Just 42 days after his horrific accident Lauda finished in fourth place at the Italian Grand Prix. He was again in the running. But his nerves didn’t always play along. Sometimes Lauda went into the pit stop too early.

"After such an accident one cannot simply jump into the car, forget everything and believe that it never happened," Lauda said. "I think one has to believe in oneself again, overcome the fear. One can only defeat the fear with confidence. After the accident, it definitely took at least six months before I drove exactly as I had done before."

Niki Lauda was runner-up in that Formula One season. A year later he again stood at the very pinnacle of Formula One racing. In 1977 he was world champion for the second time. Lauda was back to his usual self.

"The only motivation that I always saw in Formula One cars was simply the sensation to drive them, to make them to go fast," he said. " As long as I enjoy what I’m doing, I’ll continue driving. If it’s not there anymore, then the risk is too high, and then I’ll stop.”

In 1979 Lauda retired from Formula One. He wanted to devote himself to his own airline company. However, motor sport still fascinated him, and so in 1982 he returned once again to Formula One. Two years later Lauda again left all competitors in his wake. He claimed his third world championship title.

But Niki Lauda says today, that his greatest victory was to have survived Formula One. He has come to terms with the accident of 1st August 1976. Large scars still disfigure his face. To cover them he wears a red cap, which became his trademark.

   
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