Flashback: Zeltweg, August 13, 1972. My very first Formula One Grand Prix, as a spectator and a big Ferrari fan. A day I will never forget: a long drive on the twisty roads between Italy and Austria; a night spent in the back seat of my best friend’s Fiat 128, trying to get to sleep: a difficult task given the small space, the chanting Austrians camping around and the adrenalin still pumping….
On Sunday the race was a private affair between Fittipaldi and Stewart, the Brazilian eventually taking the checkered flag first. I went to Austria to cheer my hero, Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari, but he was struggling in his red 312B, floating at the back of the pack.
I was also struggling and breathless given the forty degrees in the heat of the Bosch’s curve. Another guy sweating out there was Niki Lauda, a young and promising Austrian driver chasing his first formula one points on his home track. I remember his red-orangish, funny looking STP March. He came from the 22nd spot on the grid to finish10th and well ahead of the Maranello boys. Impressive.
Twenty nine years later Lauda joined Jaguar Racing as the boss and I was there with Irvine. Not much to say to a man I admired but that I never met in person. Yes, we had something in common: August 13, 1972 and a bag full of memories.
A few races later we went to Suzuka in Japan, one of the most exciting F.1 circuits and by contrast located in such a boring small town. Niki and I tried to make one of our evenings brighter ending up in one of the hotel’s karaoke barracks, sitting next to each other by chance.
I could not believe I was chatting and singing beside one of my heroes, a true legend of the sport I love. We finally started to exchange opinions: Cars, women, women and cars; and we laughed. A bottle of Vodka in the centre of the table ended up being the perfect partner in crime.
From that night we were friends and we never changed our topics every time we met for a chat. And we never stopped laughing..
Miss u Niki.