Yours Truly used to be a diehard Formula One fan as a kid, always fascinated by its cars, drivers, teams and history. Despite his love for Formula One, however, Yours Truly always had to cover his eyes when he saw the still pictures (accompanied by creepy music) of drivers who had died racing, like Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti, fearing that somehow they would crawl out of his shabby television set and take him to who knows where.
But what haunted him the most was the sight of the then still active Lauda, who spotted horrific facial scars courtesy of his fiery crash at Nurburgring in 1976.
Talk about someone who gave it all to the sport and lived to tell us about it.
Your Truly used to have a soft spot for the red and white McLarens sponsored by Marlboro in those years, and can still remember how happy he was when John Watson and Lauda won several races between them in 1982 and 1983. And when his all-time favourite Alain Prost arrived in place of Watson beginning from the 1984 season, Yours Truly's dream had come true as McLaren had become the dominating force he had wished for. While Prost would lose the title that year by just half a point, Yours Truly was equally joyful as it was the other McLaren driver Lauda who took the honour.
Even though Lauda bought his way into Formula One at the very beginning, his speed and results had earned him a seat at Ferrari with which he would win two world titles in 1975 and 1977. Coming back just weeks after his Nurburgring crash in 1976 was brave and gutsy, but he did show his human side when he pulled into the pits in that year's finale at Fuji during torrential rain, saying that it was simply too dangerous to keep racing (ironically, Prost would do the same in Adelaide in 1989, but that did not cost him his title). Without the injury lay-off, Lauda would have won that year's title, which went to James Hunt by a single point.
After his retirement at the end of the 1985 season he focused on his aviation business, Lauda Air, which Yours Truly's better half took during her first trip to Europe. In later years he worked with Ferrari and Mercedes, and as the Non-Executive Chairman of the latter he was instrumental in transforming Mercedes from also-rans to the very best Formula One team at the moment.
For Yours Truly, Lauda was someone he grew up with, and someone he always has high regard for. When The Rat passed away after a short illness, Yours Truly felt that a part of his memory had left him for good.
However, Lauda's legacy lives on. When Yours Truly talked to his son about Lauda's passing, he suddenly became smart and said that we cannot talk about Formula One's history without mentioning Lauda. Indeed, his world championships, bravery, sacrifices, longevity, out-spokenness and contribution are things that no one should ever forget.
You will be sorely missed, Niki.