F1 managing director Ross Brawn pays his respect to Niki Lauda by relaying his career and the impact he has left on the sport as a whole.
One of the reasons for Brawn to end his term with Mercedes just when it started to boom on the scene was his differences with Lauda and Toto Wolff. Brawn left the team at the end of 2013 and went on a vacation mode until he returned with Liberty Media.
In between, he admitted to the differences but it was all in the past. With the death of the three-time F1 champion, Brawn has positive words about the Austrian in a special column released ahead of the Monaco GP this weekend.
“Niki Lauda was an icon of our sport and a man whose achievements place him firmly in the pantheon of F1 greats. When I look back at his career as a driver, it’s Niki’s singular approach that marks him out – methodical, calculated, thoughtful and precise.
“In some ways you might say that he was perhaps not as naturally gifted as Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher, but his approach to races – his intelligence and remorseless application – was outstanding.
“People who worked with him as a driver often told me how good he was at developing a car and in providing exactly the right information to the engineers. And the proof of that rare ability to extract the maximum from the package at hand lies in his outstanding achievements.
“The numbers speak for themselves: 171 grand prix starts, 24 pole positions, 54 podium places, 25 wins and three Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championships. Of course, you cannot assess the scale of Niki’s achievements without considering the events of 1976.
“What he accomplished following his accident at the Nürburgring was absolutely astonishing. In those days, media coverage of sport was nowhere near as encompassing as it is now, and we had no way of really knowing the trauma he had been through in the weeks following his terrible crash.
“It was only when I watched the film ‘Rush’ that I think I fully understood just how truly heroic Niki’s return to racing was. Without a doubt it deepened my admiration for him. He was a true hero and his comeback at Monza, just 40 days after his crash, is one of the greatest examples of courage and indomitable will in all sport.
“After watching him from a distance for many years, we eventually worked together when he joined Mercedes towards the end of 2012. The first task we jointly embarked upon was to close the deal for Lewis Hamilton to join the team. Niki was instrumental in that process.
“I had managed to convince Lewis to join us, but it was Niki who persuaded the Mercedes board to give us the money for Lewis’ retainer, no easy task. It was to prove a landmark moment in the team’s current F1 journey. Thereafter, Niki began to visit the factory with greater frequency.
“He didn’t have to do it, but he wanted to understand the team’s process, he wanted to be hands on. I’ll admit that he had a very blunt approach and there were plenty of occasions when we bounced off each other, but I think that in the time we spent together at Mercedes we found a good working arrangement that ultimately benefited the team.
“It was always valuable to have Niki’s counsel, not on operational matters, but more in terms of the wider perspective, and after more than four decades in the sport, perspective was Niki’s great gift – even if he was often unequivocal in his delivery of that vision!
“His legacy is huge. He was successful as a driver at the maximum level and later brought his intensely logical approach to his entrepreneurial adventures. Indeed, I remember that he sometimes brought the management team from his airline company to the races and used parallels with F1 to push them to greater achievements
“He was an important part of the development of the team currently dominating F1 and which is likely to become most successful in the history of the sport. Niki’s loss is of huge significance to F1. Ours is a sport that revolves around larger than life personalities and Niki was one of racing’s most formidable characters.
“His presence in the paddock was a reminder that F1 is a sport of heroes, an arena for competitors who push past common limits of fortitude and endurance and find an elevated plane beyond the ordinary. Simply, he was a legend.”