Former Formula One driver Niki Lauda is still a fixture at races, chiming in on every controversial move of the front-runners as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team. He’s lucky to be here at all. Forty years ago today, a horrifying crash at the Nürburgring nearly took his life.
Here’s the wreck, and be warned that it’s still tough to watch today.
On August 1, 1976, Lauda crashed his Ferrari 312T2 during the F1 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Back then, cars ran the full Nordschleife course—which was as dangerous as ever in 1976. Lauda raised concerns about the safety of the course ahead of the 1976 race, asking drivers to vote to boycott the grand prix, per BT. Lauda didn’t get enough votes to push through the boycott, so they raced.
During the race, Lauda crashed at high speed into an embankment just after the Bergwerk corner, bouncing back into oncoming traffic where it was hit by the cars of Brett Lunger and Harald Ertl, according to the BBC.
Soon, drivers Arturo Merzario and Guy Edwards arrived at the scene. The four other drivers, not content to let one of their own burn without a fight, immediately started trying to save Lauda from the fire using the single fire extinguisher they had on hand, writes BT.
Lauda was trapped inside his own burning car for over a minute, damaging his lungs with smoke. His scalp, forehead and hands suffered severe burns that left him in critical condition. Part of one of his ears was burned off as well.
After a series of operations to replace his eyelids as well as remove smoke and debris from his lungs and face, Lauda returned to racing just six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix. Damage to his tear ducts affected his vision in subsequent races. He finished fourth despite still sporting bandages from the Nürburgring crash and having to wear a specially modified helmet to accommodate them.
While he lost out on the world championship by one point to James Hunt that year, he claimed it in 1977 and continued to race for years after that.
Racing drivers may be rivals out on track, but at the end of the day, it’s a close-knit group, and incidents like this prove that drivers will go to extraordinary lengths to save one of their own.