Grand Prix Drives Club President Emanuele Pirro knew Niki Lauda well and writes :
The members of the GPDC are extremely saddened with the loss of a friend and our sincere condolences, on behalf of all the members, go to Niki’s family and close friends.
That Niki was an exceptional person we already knew, but the reaction that many insiders had, have raised it to another level. Rarely do you hear so many people paying tributes and speaking with their heart so highly about somebody passing.
The truth is that, only when somebody dies, people take the time to say what they really think of him. I believe Toto Wolf’s words say a lot: “Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light. As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest – and utterly loyal” and “Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you. It was our honour to call you our chairman – and my privilege to call you my friend.”.
On a superficial level people’s perception of Niki was seen as a hard guy with little sentiments, sometimes he was called a “robot”. Well, I would like to share with you the following story. When Andrea De Cesaris died on a Sunday in October 2014 I was in Monaco for an event and being an old friend of his, many people asked me about the details of his funeral, including Eddie Jordan who was then in contact with Niki.
On Tuesday night, when I eventually found out, I told him that it would be held “next Thursday” at 10.00 am in Rome. Eddie, diligently informed Niki and only accidentally, on Wednesday late at night I found out that Eddie thought it was in a week’s time and not the very next day!
At 11 pm I called Eddie to warn him that the funeral was actually the next day and, in order to make it, he joined me in the 7-hour car trip from Monaco leaving at 3 am in the morning.
He then duly informed Niki of the “misunderstanding” at that very late stage.
Well, the next morning we walked into the crowded Church and Niki was there, hidden behind a column, away from the spotlight, just to pay an intimate tribute to Andrea! I don’t know how he could organize a private flight with such short notice when he was on his way to the Russian GP.
That was Niki!
With all he has done and achieved during and after his racing career, it is hard to imagine that Niki was only 70 years old. Racing drivers know well, learning the hard way, that life can be not long enough and there is very little we can do about it. On the contrary, there is a lot one can do about the quality of it and what Niki has achieved in the way he did, is simply remarkable.
Before I started my first Formula One GP I asked a good friend, who was an established F1 driver for some advice. He told me only one thing: “Formula One is brutal and often it doesn’t give you a second chance. Therefore, whatever mistake you do, never admit it… and always blame the car!!”. Well, when Niki retired from the famous race in Fuji, Ferrari proposed him to blame the car and he refused, taking full responsibility of what he did, “brutally honest and utterly loyal”.
These are the things that differentiate a champion from a Legend….