Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda, McLaren, Brands Hatch, 1984Niki Lauda was one of few drivers to make a successful comeback in Formula One, returning to win a third championship after two years out of the cockpit.

He arrived in F1 in 1971 with March and moved on to BRM for 1973. Although he came from a wealthy background he subsidised his racing by taking out a loan.

It paid off when he was snapped up by Ferrari for 1974 and became a Grand Prix winner.

The following year he claimed the team’s first drivers’ title for more than a decade. A shoo-in for the ’76 title, he crashed horribly at the Nurburgring, was pulled from the burning wreckage and so badly inured he was read the last rites.

Incredibly, he survived and returned to the track just six weeks later. But he missed out on the title by a single point after withdrawing from the final race of the season, held in atrocious conditions at Fuji in Japan.

He got his revenge in 1977 with a second title, before leaving Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari had criticised Lauda’s decision to withdraw in Fuji and brought in the competitive Carlos Reutemann as Lauda’s team mate.

Three difficult years with Brabham followed before his retirement at the end of 1979. And that, everyone assumed, was that.

But in 1982 Ron Dennis pulled off a coup by wooing Lauda back from retirement to drive for McLaren. Even more surprisingly, Lauda won his third race back, at Long Beach. He added a second victory later that year at Brands Hatch.

In 1984 with the TAG-Porsche engine he beat team mate Alain Prost to the title by a mere half-point.

Lauda toyed with moving to Renault for 1985 but he stuck with McLaren, and struggled with horrendous unreliability while Prost claimed the championship.

Lauda won just once, at Zandvoort, still fuming about the manner in which Dennis had conducted the press conference announcing his departure at the Osterreichring a week earlier, in which Dennis made little mention of Lauda’s contributions to McLaren.

Since then he has assisted Ferrari in the mid-nineties and was team principal at Jaguar in 2002, but failed to instil real change in the team and was dropped after one year.