“Niki Lauda: The Biography” reviewed

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The outpouring of respect and fond reminiscences that accompanied Niki Lauda’s death 12 months ago showed he belonged in that very select club of F1 drivers who transcended their sport and, like Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart, embraced ambassador status on its behalf.

Veteran F1 journalist Maurice Hamilton’s new biography attempts the far from straightforward task of cramming Lauda’s action-packed and varied life into just under 400 pages. Certainly the story is in good hands, Hamilton having penned some superb books on the sport – most notably Race Without End, the superb fly-on-the-wall account of Jordan’s 1993 season (what I wouldn’t give for a similar book about current F1).

The focus of the narrative is on Lauda’s racing and latter business career and is broadly structured into three sections – up to 1976, 1976-85 and post-retirement. The level of detail varies, for example the title run-ins of 1975 and ’77 are barely covered, whereas the second retirement in 1985 is covered in some depth (an extract from which was published by RaceFans recently).

Hamilton’s approach is to extensively and deeply mine various sources, including Lauda’s own autobiographies. On one hand it adds to the richness to have numerous first-hand accounts of key incidents from Lauda’s life, on the other for the serious Lauda fans they may have come across much of this before.

There are two big omissions; firstly there is only limited comment and assessment from Hamilton about some of the key incidents – I’d have loved a bit more about what drove the fissure between Enzo Ferrari and Lauda. Secondly there is scarcely anything about Lauda’s personal life, which means the person presented never quite seems fully formed. There are lots of stories from other journalists, but very little from people who knew Lauda in a non-motorsport or aviation capacity.

What is beyond doubt is that Niki Lauda makes a fantastic subject for a book, his single-mindedness and obstinacy is something to behold (walking out on Ferrari after claiming the title in 1977 for example). Likewise his eloquence and directness means there are no shortage of quotes to illustrate his views on any given event.

Three out of five is on the tough side – consider it a four if you are not familiar with previous works on the same subject. There are other new titles on Lauda competing for attention at the moment, notably Jon Saltinstall’s recent Competition History, reviewed here in January, which focuses more closely on the details of Lauda’s races.

For those seeking a full-picture account of his motorsport life, this is a superb primer on Lauda – comprehensive, tautly-crafted and insightful. When many motorsport publications are autobiographies of variable quality, it is great to have a serious new biography on the shelves.

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RaceFans rating

Rating three out of five

Niki Lauda: The Biography

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Niki Lauda: The Biography

Author: Maurice Hamilton
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2020
Pages: 384
Price: £20.00
ISBN: 9781471192012

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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One comment on ““Niki Lauda: The Biography” reviewed”

  1. One man who succeeded in Motor sports.
    Lucky to have seen him race at Long Beach. I liked his attitude and loved his talent behind the wheel. Now I miss him. He made Formula One better in many ways. This book I bet is great but tonight I’m reminded of what we have lost.
    I’m sad a little bit.

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