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Opinion / Robert Bound

Maintaining the racing line

Niki Lauda, the triple Formula One world champion whose death was announced yesterday at the age of 70, was perhaps the first in a new breed of sportsmen in the 1970s who could simply be called “professional.” In motor racing, as in many sports that were the preserve of the rich, the brave amateur and the vainglorious dilettante were the norm for drivers and team owners. Lauda could easily have been either, coming as he did from a wealthy family of Austrian industrialists. But after having been disowned by his father for choosing the cockpit over the boardroom, he found himself having to draw on an engineering standard of technical knowledge and the very deepest wells of determination – for which he became world famous.Of course, for a month in the summer of 1976, he was the only person in the world who thought he’d die in his dotage: a crash at Germany’s treacherous Nürburgring track engulfed his car – and, thus, him – in 800C flames. Later, in hospital, it was being read the last rites that incensed the lapsed Catholic into recovery, returning to racing just six weeks later and missing out on that year’s championship by a single point. The scarred Lauda would go on to win two more championships and serve as a visible reminder of the sport’s danger.To one of the true buccaneers of an Old European sport of motorised jousting, one of a very few who knew that all of this came under that fusty title “professional” – a toast.

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