Niki Lauda's second coming

Maurice Hamilton, the author of a brilliant new biography of the triple world champion, explains that while Lauda’s first Formula 1 comeback was heroic, his second was just as remarkable...

Niki Lauda 1982 Dutch Grand Prix

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

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If anyone had been unaware of Niki Lauda’s return to the cockpit in January 1982, they knew all about it on the morning he was supposed to make his official comeback. The then two-time World Champion turned up at Kyalami and urged his fellow drivers to go on strike.

Lauda may not have been militant, but he had a keen awareness of what was right and wrong. In his mind, the recently introduced superlicence – specifically a clause tying a driver to his team in the fashion of football contracts – set a dangerous precedent that would cut the legs from beneath a driver’s independence. That may sound obvious but, of the 31 drivers preparing for the 1982 season, Lauda had been the only one to spot it. Or, more likely, the only one to bother examining each clause in detail.

Lauda’s previous F1 experience, extending across more than 100 grands prix, was also enough to tell him that one move would be crucial if he was to make a walkout effective. He would need to act before the drivers reached their teams and the influence of managers that would range between powerfully coercive and potentially threatening. The element of surprise would be made possible by positioning a bus at the circuit gate, ready to whisk the drivers out of reach shortly after their arrival.