Pino Allievi of La Gazzetta dello Sport had heard about the test in the McLaren, but knew no more than anyone else about Lauda’s plans.
Allievi said: “I had always got on well with Niki. On the Thursday before the Grand Prix in Canada in 1978, when he was driving for Brabham, he asked what I was doing that evening. When I said I didn’t know, he asked: ‘Why don’t we go to the cinema?’ So we went to the movies that night – I don’t remember which one – and this is the only time I’ve ever done that with a Grand Prix driver! So, in November 1981, he called me and said: ‘Why don’t you come to Vienna tomorrow afternoon?’ ‘Yes, okay, but to do what?’ ‘It’s a surprise.’ ‘Okay. But do I have to bring pyjamas and something?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘just a couple of things.’
I flew to Vienna and he was waiting for me when I arrived at about seven in the evening. We went to a restaurant and then to a nightclub; it was a fantastic night. We went back to the hotel – which he paid for – and I said to him: ‘Niki, what are we f***ing doing here?’ He said: ‘Tomorrow morning, I show you. Do you have the passport?’ ‘Yes, I have everything.’ ‘Okay, be ready at five o’clock in the morning.’
When he came for me, it was snowing. We went in a Mercedes 500 to the airport. When I asked where we were going, he said England. We got to London and somebody picked us up. We went to McLaren, in Woking. Niki didn’t introduce me to anyone; no one knew that I was a journalist; he said I was a friend of his. I waited for him in reception and when he came back, he said he had signed. ‘Signed what?’ ‘A contract with McLaren. Now I have to go testing.’ Incredible! We had a big scoop in the newspaper: ‘Lauda comes back!’”
There may have been some truth in stories of financial constraint associated with running his airline prompting his return but the overwhelming motivation was an abiding need to compete and measure his own ability. Better than anyone, Niki Lauda knew the risks involved. He would pull his crash helmet over a head, mind devoid of fear or worry about doing this for the wrong reason. The focus would be on one thing only: winning and being the best – yet again.