It happened today – 1 August

It happened today

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

On 1st August 1976, the German Grand Prix was held at the Nurburgring. In qualifying, Niki Lauda who had dominated the season so far in his Ferrari 312 T2, had to give best to James Hunt and the McLaren. Lauda’s race got off to a bad start, because a rain shower had led to him choosing rain tyres. But the decision cost the Austrian a lot of time and he lost places to those who had opted for slicks. He therefore stopped to change them and set off to make up ground, but then, partly down to his still cold tyres offering little grip on the damp track, he had that terrible accident at Bergwerk.

Lauda lost control of the car, hit the bank at the side of the track and ended up across the track, with his helmet missing, having been ripped off in the impact. The car caught fire as fuel leaked out and Niki was trapped in the burning cockpit. Other drivers bravely tried to help as they came across the incident: Harald Ertl, Guy Edwards and Brett Lunger all did what they could, but it was mainly thanks to Arturo Merzario, who pulled him out of the flaming cockpit, who saved him. However, Lauda was in a very serious condition, not so much because of the burns, but because of the poisonous fumes he had inhaled that might have proved lethal. It was only four days later on 5 August that his condition was no longer deemed life threatening and three days after that, he was moved from the Mannheim hospital where he was first taken, to one at Ludwigshafen, which had a specialist burns unit.

Those who believed his racing days were over had not taken into account the Austrian’s determination. Lauda was back on track in record time and only missed out on that year’s title by a single point. The following year he was crowned world champion, also winning at the new venue for the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim.

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