Few sports are as dangerous and misunderstood as Formula 1 racing. The fast-paced race-track based automotive contest is both exhilarating to watch and potentially deadly to partake in. So naturally, a little bit of rivalry between racers helps to dial the intensity up to eleven.
In the 1970s, when F1 racing was still in a somewhat formative stage, two men developed a unique relationship on and eventually off the race track. The British racer James Hunt and the Austrian racer Niki Lauda would spend the better part of the decade racing against each other in a fierce personal competition.
It all started in 1970 on the Crystal Palace circuit in London, England. Both drivers experienced some technical difficulties, but Hunt would ultimately go on to win the race. This was enough to kindle Lauda’s fighting spirit, and the two men would clash at nearly every high profile event for the next few years.
Things came to a tragic head in the 1976 racing season when Niki Lauda was involved in a crash on the Nürburgring circuit. Lauda suffered third-degree burns and was permanently disfigured as a result of the accident. Both men would go on to compete in the rest of the season, however, with James Hunt becoming the 1976 Formula 1 racing champion.
The Hunt/Lauda rivalry has since become a legend within the arena of automotive sports. Much has been made of the relationship between these two men, who in many ways were very different, especially in the wake of James hunt’s untimely death in 1993. There has even been a film made about the subject titled Rush and directed by Ron Howard; although it was apparently not very accurate to history.
One of the more dramatized aspects of the story is the animosity between Hunt and Lauda. While it is true that there was some heated competition between the two, they became friends relatively quickly. So while the races were intense and very much winner takes all, the spirit was friendly. Hunt was particularly disturbed after his friend was injured in 1976.
Despite their friendship, James Hunt and Niki Lauda were two very different people. It was a fast and reckless lifestyle of drugs and sex that helped contribute to Hunt’s early death. Indeed, after his victory in 1976, James Hunt had a diminished interest in competing as his status of champion allowed him all the luxuries he could want.
Lauda was a more reserved character and would go on to live to the age of 70 despite his terrible accident many decades ago. Niki Lauda died in May of this year. While both men are now gone, their heroic struggles on the race track will live on in the hearts of race fans from around the world.