Born on February 22, 1949 in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy family, he became a racing driver in 1968 and began racing in Formula One with the March team in 1973. Joining Ferrari in 1974, he won his first Grand Prix, and his first world championship in 1975.
In 1976, Lauda suffered horrific injuries at a crash at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Near death, he nevertheless managed to get back into his Ferrari six weeks after his accident. In one of the most famous World Championship finishes in history, he lost the championship to James Hunt when he withdrew from the last race of the year in Japan after only two laps because of the dangerously wet conditions.
Lauda easily won the 1977 championship despite only winning three races.
After leaving Ferrari to join Brabham in 1978, Lauda endured two unsuccessful seasons, notable mainly for his one race in a radical design which used fan-assisted aerodynamics. The vehicle won its only race and was then promptly banned. In mid-1979, Lauda left to found his own airline.
As a driver, Lauda was renowned for his clear-headed approach to driving, minimising risk whilst maximising results, and ruthless self-interest.