Insurance came at a premium

Vinayak Pande

Greater Noida, Oct. 28 -- Speaking to a 'dead' man probably qualifies as a first. After all, the triple Formula 1 world champion, who was given up for dead and had his last rites read to him 36 years ago following a horrific accident, is alive and well on a sofa in an F1 team building at the Buddh International Circuit before qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix.

Austrian Niki Lauda recalled the times when a tough decision by racing drivers determined the ease with which they would be able to purchase life insurance.

"Racing drivers of my time had to accept that racing was dangerous and we wanted to do it," said Lauda. "Drivers today don't need to think about that because racing is much safer now. It made getting insured very difficult and to be perfectly honest, I don't think I ever had any!"

Horrific crash

It is easy to grasp for anyone who has seen pictures or footage of Lauda's second-lap accident at the 1976 German GP. Harder to grasp is that just over a month and half after the accident, Lauda was back in the cockpit of his Ferrari at the Italian GP and finished fourth while his title rival James Hunt spun off in his McLaren.

Lauda lost that year's title at the final race of the season in Fuji by a single point after he and three other drivers withdrew from the race due to the track being "flooded" and not, as is often cited, due to the accident in Germany playing on his mind.

"I pulled out of the race in Fuji simply because of the track conditions and the race was delayed by three hours due to heavy rain," said Lauda. "It was still raining when the Japanese race director told us we had to race because it was getting dark and the circuit's television rights would be taken away if we didn't race. So I started but pulled out and unfortunately James (Hunt) finished third and beat me to the title by just one point."

Lauda won the 1977 title and was even able to temporarily retire at 30 to start his airline before selling it at a profit and returning to F1 in 1982 and winning a third crown two years later. All this without the management team that surrounds most drivers today. "In my time, drivers managed everything themselves," said the man who famously outwitted his Brabham team boss Bernie Ecclestone when it came to renegotiating his contract. "But I must say that today the only exception is Vettel who does it by himself."

Sounds like people could learn a thing or two from Lauda. Perhaps even Vijay Mallya when it comes to running an airline? "He (Mallya) expanded too quickly and added too many routes too soon," said Lauda. "He did it all when the economy was fine and it seemed okay to him but then it all turned against him."

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.