This weekend Formula 1 journeys to its most iconic venue, Monaco, for a grand prix that harnesses the finest qualities of racing’s great heroes – precision, calculation, commitment, passion, and heroism. However, it will do so without one of the sport’s greatest legends, a man who embodied all of those sublime characteristics and more – Niki Lauda.
The sad news of Niki’s passing this week, at the age of 70, robs Formula 1 of one of its most charismatic figures. Three-time world champion, entrepreneur, iconoclast, and the man at the heart of perhaps the greatest sporting comeback of all time, Lauda was a towering figure not just in the history of Formula 1 but in all of sport. Here,
Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport, Ross Brawn, pays tribute to the Lauda he knew - a superlative racer, a brilliant mind and a fierce competitor whose uncompromising approach and no-nonsense style made him feared by rivals and beloved by fans. And as Ross concludes, Formula 1 will not see the likes of him again.
Niki Lauda was an icon of our sport and a man whose achievements place him firmly in the pantheon of Formula 1 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 Formula 1 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 Formula 1 to push them to greater achievements. He was an important part of the development of the team currently dominating Formula 1 and which is likely to become most successful in the history of the sport.
Niki’s loss is of huge significance to Formula 1. 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 Formula 1 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.
The Information Lap Monaco
Some major milestones are in prospect at this weekend’s race in glittering, glamorous Monaco. Kimi Räikkönen is set to join an exclusive clubs of five drivers, Mercedes are seeking a record run of results, and Valtteri Bottas is hoping to break his podium-free record in the Principality.
Mercedes are, of course, seeking a sixth consecutive one-two finish this weekend. The Silver Arrows have already set a benchmark for one-twos since the start of a season but if they pick up a sixth in Monaco it will establish a new record for a consecutive one-twos during a campaign as well. Ferrari took five in a row in 1952 and 2002, while Mercedes themselves did the same in 2014. The only fly in the ointment is that Valtteri Bottas has never finished on the podium in Monaco. From six attempts so far he has a best finish of fourth place in 2017.
This weekend will mark Kimi Räikkönen’s 300th presence at a grand prix weekend. The Finn has not missed an event in a season in which he has raced since his debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix but he has missed three starts during that time. In Belgium in 2001 the race was stopped after four laps following a serious crash involving Jaguar’s Eddie Irvine and Prost’s Luciano Burti. Those opening laps, during which Kimi suffered a transmission failure, were nullified and the Finn didn’t take the re-start. In 2005 he failed to start at the US Grand Prix due to issues with Michelin’s tyres, and in 2017, at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Kimi failed to start due to engine issues on the way to the grid. His 300th start is due to take place at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
167 of the current drivers, one has led more laps of the Circuit de Monaco than Lewis Hamilton. The five-time champion has led 167 laps across four of his 12 races to date in the Principality. He led for five laps in his debut season of 2007, for 44 during his first race to victory here in 2008 (pictured), for 64 laps on his way to third place in 2015 (he dropped out of the lead due to a pit stop error), and for 54 laps on his way to a second win in 2016. Only four other current drivers have led laps in Monaco: Sebastian Vettel (121), Kimi Räikkönen (118), Daniel Ricciardo (102), and Robert Kubica, who led for 10 laps during the 2008 race.
Title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are well matched at the Monaco Grand Prix. Both have two wins in the Principality and both scored them with different teams. Hamilton won in 2008 with McLaren and then in 2016 with Mercedes, while Vettel won with Red Bull Racing in 2011 and with Ferrari in 2017 (pictured). Both drivers also have six podium appearances apiece in Monaco. Vettel edges it, though, with four second places (2010, 2013, 2015, 2018) to add to his victories, while Hamilton has two second places (2007, 2014) and two third places (2015, 2018). Both have a single pole here, with Vettel starting from P1 in 2011 and Hamilton in 2015. Vettel has two fastest laps (2010, 2013), while Hamilton has just one (2016).
Two current drivers have multiple pole positions here. Kimi Räikkönen started from the front for McLaren in 2005 and then for Ferrari in 2017, while Daniel Ricciardo scored his maiden pole position here with Red Bull Racing in 2016 and then matched the achievement last year (pictured) in his final season with the Milton Keynes squad.
The fourth round of the 2019 FIA Formula 2 season takes place this week at the legendary Circuit de Monaco. Just under two weeks ago in Spain, Canadian ace Nicholas Latifi extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship following a third win of the season in the Round 3 Feature Race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The DAMS driver has scored 93 points so far – 26 more than his closest rival Luca Ghiotto of UNI-Virtuosi Racing. In third place, ART Grand Prix’s Nyck De Vries is climbing up the ladder with a Sprint Race win in Spain and 63 points in the standings, one ahead of Campos Racing’s Jack Aitken on 62. The narrow streets of Monte Carlo host the F2 drivers’ next challenge, as last year’s Feature Race winner Artem Markelov joins MP Motorsport in replacement of Jordan King for this round only. Pirelli are supplying Soft and Supersoft tyre compounds which all 20 drivers will use to their fullest in pursuit of glory at one of the most prestigious circuits on the calendar.