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Niki Lauda has died (theguardian.com)
537 points by CaliforniaKarl 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

Niki Lauda is the man I will always remember as the one who successfully threatened Boeing into admitting they were at fault for a thrust reverser issue that caused the crash of Lauda Air Flight 004, operated by his company [1].

He had the courage to say that if Boeing does not recognize they were at fault, he would fly a plane himself in conditions similar to the crash and see if he could reproduce the issue.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauda_Air_Flight_004#Lauda's_v...

"Niki Lauda said that the crash in 1991 and the period after was the worst time in his life." [1]

This after he almost burned alive in a F1 crash. The Boeing crash deeply affected him and he felt responsible for it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauda_Air_Flight_004#Lauda's_v...

Funny that nearly the first comment on this thread dealt not with Lauda’s Formula 1 career but his airline ventures. He really must be more widely known for that now.

I’m not a sports fan, and I learned who Lauda is by seeing the words "Fly Niki" plastered all over Air Berlin cabins, as Lauda’s airline established a partnership with Air Berlin. (Of course, Air Berlin itself is now defunct.) "Niki" seemed an odd name for an airline, which led me to Wikipedia the company and thus discover that there was a Formula 1 star behind it.

I don't think it is, because he is more widely known for his airline, but for the fact that this episode tells so much about him as a person. He was a perfectionist, very focussed on technical excellence, especially on safety. That his airline would suffer such a tragical crash came as a shock to many and it is very fitting how he pushed to find the technical failure that led to the crash.

Lauda and Jackie Stewart were pioneers of motorsport safety. F1 has had a single on-track death over the past twenty years in a one-off accident, and work began immediately to make sure that type of accident won't happen again.

I had no idea he had an airline.

Neither did I. I'm not a huge Formula 1 fan, but when I was a kid, his name was practically synonymous with car racing.

For me he's synonymous with flying. First Lauda Air, then Fly Niki with Air Berlin and now Lauda Motion with Ryanair.

I guess I'm not a big fan of flying either. His racing reached me, his airlines didn't.

Personally I couldn't think of a worse legacy than having my name associated with Ryanair.

I flew with another airline that he was part of called Laudamotion. Its part of ryanair (not great), but you can tell from the more sportif look. The seats were pure leather and the airhosteses were wearing jeans.

> Funny that nearly the first comment on this thread dealt not with Lauda’s Formula 1 career but his airline ventures.

The real reason I'll check HN comments first.

> He really must be more widely known for that now.

No, here in Europe F1 is a household thing. Everybody nows about the race car driver. He worked as a F1 pundit in German TV and there is even the movie about him and James Hunt, "normal" people know about that. They don't care about aircraft technology.

I actually did fly on his airline, sometime in the mid nineties. Very high quality service even in the economy class.

Although he was brave in saying that, he really had no choice. LaudaAir was being criticised at the time for scaling-up too quickly and putting crews under a lot of stress, with duty rosters pushed to the limit and minimal rest time. Pilot unions had said that an accident was inevitable, and then one happened.

There was genuinely a technical failing with the 767 but he had to do something headline-ish to emphasise that and to shift suspicion away from his management style.

To his credit, his later airline ventures were more sensibly planned and paced and didn't involve him flying routes to fill staffing gaps. He does seem to have been open to learning.

Yeah, but what makes it stand out to me is how he really firmly pushed Boeing for a while after that, flew simulators himself, and got them to admit wrongdoing, which is very impressive to me. Furthermore, getting further into the media when there are deaths on the line at your own airline is a tricky thing to do.

Exhausted staff was not the cause of the crash at all.


"The official investigation, lead by Thailand's Aircraft Accident investigation Committee, took about eight months, and was released with the "probable cause" stating: "The Accident Investigation Committee of the Government of Thailand determines the probable cause of this accident to be [an] uncommanded in-flight deployment of the left engine thrust reverser, which resulted in loss of flight path control. The specific cause of the thrust reverser deployment has not been positively identified."[18] Different possibilities were investigated, including a short circuit in the system. Due in part to the destruction of much of the wiring, no definitive reason for the activation of the thrust reverser could be found.[10]

As evidence started to point towards the thrust reversers as the cause of the accident, Lauda made simulator flights at Gatwick Airport which appeared to show that deployment of a thrust reverser was a survivable incident. Lauda said that the thrust reverser could not be the sole cause of the crash.[19] However the accident report states that the "flightcrew training simulators yielded erroneous results"[4] and stated that recovery from the loss of lift from the reverser deployment "was uncontrollable for an unexpecting flight crew".[20]

The incident led Boeing to modify the thrust reverser system to prevent similar occurrences by adding sync-locks, which prevent the thrust reversers from deploying when the main landing gear truck tilt angle is not at the ground position.[10] The aviation writer Macarthur Job has said that "had that Boeing 767 been of an earlier version of the type, fitted with engines that were controlled mechanically rather than electronically, then that accident could not have happened".[7]"

You need to read the _whole_ comment.. dingaling said it was a technical failure and didn't even imply it was due to staff, just commenting on the general public's opinion at the time.

I know people don't read the article, but at least read the comment lol

>The incident led Boeing to modify the thrust reverser system to prevent similar occurrences by adding sync-locks, which prevent the thrust reversers from deploying when the main landing gear truck tilt angle is not at the ground position.[10] The aviation writer Macarthur Job has said that "had that Boeing 767 been of an earlier version of the type, fitted with engines that were controlled mechanically rather than electronically, then that accident could not have happened".[7]"

How much similarity does this have to the current Boeing 737 Max woes?

Also, I just tried to see if I could find if Lauda had commented on the whole 737 Max disaster - it led me to finding this 20 year old documentary:


He did the same thing a few years ago when vulcanic ash clouds grounded Europe's air travel.

He hopped into one of his A320 and flew through the ash clouds to prove that it was safe and wouldn't damage the engines.

I think there is a difference between the safety standards of civil aviation and "safe enough for a former F1 driver".

n=1, survivor bias, etc.

That doesn’t prove it was safe, it showed it wasn’t 100% lethal.

If this had a 1:1000 chance of going wrong, how long would it be before the first plane making an emergency landing or worse? Probably a few days, at most. Who would be blamed for not grounding planes?

It shows that as a Formula 1 driver (and much earlier) he gained deep insight into complex machines and what can go wrong with them.

The infamous flight 203 to Cali on November 27, 1989, was allegedly taken down by a bomb planted under orders from Pablo Escobar.

This is the government story.

However, further investigations imply the failure could have been the fault of a fuel pump and Boeing tried to cover it.




And that's nothing, if your read about his life from young age with huge conflicts with his family because of racing, his racing career and later his airline, the man had some huge balls.

The ultimate tech support

I had never heard this before. Knew him from F1. So thanks a lot for sharing this!

A true legend. Probably one of the coolest, hard working, inspiring and honest people in recent history. The movie Rush was also pretty neat to watch, which highlights the rivalry between Lauda and Hunt.

The best insights of races always came from Lauda, he was always very much to the point.

His comeback after the nearly fatal crash was arguable the biggest comeback in sports ever.

I'm not a Formula 1 fan at all and was only vaguely familiar with Lauda's name (I hadn't even heard of the other guy), but I enjoyed Rush a lot. It's an excellent movie and the fact that it's based on a true story makes it all the more compelling.

Since you liked Rush, you should check out the documentary Senna about the great F1 racer Ayrton Senna (widely considered the best F1 driver ever).

Dunno about that. It's been debated endlessly; but Schumacher, I would say, is the best ever.

Statistically, MS trounces AS, but statistics aren't everything, of course. Senna's tragic death stole a real comparison between the two. And also, if Schumacher had to share Ferrari with someone like Hakkinen instead of Barichello, he'd obviously not have won as many races as he did.

In any case, it's almost impossible to actually determine who was better.

Idk, just passing time while brewing coffee. I always love an F1 discussion.

Hearing about Niki Lauda brings back memories of the death of the Swedish F1 racer Ronnie Peterson in 1978. I was sitting on a commuter train, and heard whispers moving through the coach saying "Ronnie Peterson just crashed". There were of course no mobile phones at that time, so the information came from F1 fans who were following the race while listening to their portable FM radios.

Some survive, some die.

George Harrison (of Beatles fame) later dedicated his song "Faster" to the memory of Ronnie Peterson.

Statistics in F1 are a bit of a nightmare.

Statistically, Prost outscored Senna in their time as teammates.

Alonso, for example, will never have the stats to represent his immense talent (Unless you use a method like f1metrics). Hamilton, however, is extremely good and has had the car to allow him to fully reach his potential

Watching Senna race in the rain clinched it for me.

Also the Grand Tour tribute to Jim Clark - who was Senna's own hero.

[Most of the Grand Tour is the silliest kind of entertainment - but they have done a few exceptional factual segments and that is one of them].

their segment on the corvette for astronauts was also quite good!

If you do go and watch the Senna movie, go and read a book about Alain Prost too given that the movie is not as honest as Rush

I'm in a similar boat. I actually recently watched the F1: Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix and it really sparked an interest in Formula 1 in me. It offers a really high signal view of the races and the surrounding drama with regard to the racers and the different F1 teams. I highly recommend giving it a watch.

I wish the actual races were as interesting as that documentary.

Exactly. Formula 1 are masters of marketing, but the actual races are spectacularly boring. The novelty of seeing fast cars doing cool circuits at 300km/h wears off eventually, and then what's left is an uncompetitive entertainment product which isn't half as interesting in reality as you expect.

It’s an acquired taste. Like soccer, all of the action happens in short spurts and you’re never sure when it’s going to happen (if it happens at all). People coming from the Netflix series had too-high expectations for the action.

Well, I used to watch F1 years (decades) ago. The Senna vs Prost years were spectacular.

Today it seems most overlapping happens between mid-range teams, where car performance is comparable and the driver makes a difference; this is exactly what is shown in the documentary. But they managed to show that with great editing mixed with some backstage tension and politics that made the whole thing fun.

Not only the comeback right after the crash. A few years later he retired from F1, then came back and won a title. He's still the only one to win a championship after a hiatus.

I well remember the battles Lauda had in the mid-seventies with James Hunt. I thought they were bitter enemies but I was wrong. Hunt died at 45 in his bed from a heart attack.

Niki Lauda eulogized his friend at Hunt's funeral:

He said Hunt was one of the very few people he liked, a smaller number he respected and the only one he had envied.

Rush movie's ending scene depicts that well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcJkVa7MsrQ

Lauda and Hunt rivalry and lifes is like a story about Stoicism vs. Epicureanism

Very good movie by the way. I'm only marginally interested in Formula 1 and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lauda even thought it was quite good.

Spoiler alert! J/K. A movie about F1 is the perfect chance to say that ;)

.... or like the novel "Narcissus and Goldmine" by Hermann Hesse.

Maybe the best way to be eulogized by someone like Lauda. And a great way to salute James Hunt.

I didn't know much about Formula 1 until I saw the movie 'Rush'. Its one of my favorites, an had opened my eyes to a lot of things. I left the movie wanting to be as pragmatic and brilliant as Niki Lauda (I failed). He knew what he wanted, how to do it, and execute successfully. Admirable.

I was going to see a F1 race this year (Austin) and hoped to have met the man. It was amazing that he was still out there with his team.

Anyway, here's my favorite scene from the movie.

"Niki Lauda meets his wife" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kl0UBS4ZaM

BTW everytime I heard his name I yell out "Niki Lauda Niki Lauda" like the men in the clip.

Fond memories of watching him race in his last ever F1 race with McLaren in Adelaide in (I think) '86. I was seated at the end of the long Brabham straight, and near the end of the race, Nikki's brakes gave out and he hit the wall only a few dozen metres from me. The entire crowd gave him a standing ovation as he got out of the car and walked back to the pits waving to everyone.

It was 1985. In 1986 Keke Rosberg replaced him at Mclaren.

Niki was one of those greater than life characters, his outlook on life - especially after his famous accident - has always been an inspiration for me.

As an F1 fan, I will also miss his candid commentary on the F1 circus.

Already missed him last races, feared already it would be health related.

Everyone in this thread is saying this, but I know him only as a dude who used to be a racer and then founded an airline or two.

What's so inspiring about him?

I don't mean any disrespect.

Wikipedia :) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niki_Lauda

His grit, came back from a near-death burn injury in _six_ weeks to finish off the F1 season. The movie Rush (2013) made it more known in the popular culture.

To add to what others have said, "used to be a racer" is impressive in and of itself. It's a profession where almost every day they push themselves and an experimental machine to the limits, it's quite inspiring to see people brave enough to do that.

And then of course he did this so often and so well that he was world champion 3 times and came close a couple more times.

"A racer" undersells it a bit. He was a multiple-time world champion in what is arguably the "premier" motorsport, including twice _after_ suffering massive burns in a crash that should have killed him. If you made a list of the best race car drivers in history, there's no doubt he'd be on it.

How many airlines have you founded...?

>arguably the "premier" motorsport

s/arguably/is F1 drivers are the absolute bests of the their generation, and Lauda was one of the best of all of them

Other than his famous incident, he was also three time F1 world champion, which is no small feat.

Winning one race is no small feat. Be a three times world champion is truly legendary.

Saying "I don't mean any disrespect" does not grant you carte blanche to speak nonchalantly about a recently-deceased motoring legend's life achievements.

I just felt that a comment explaining why he is inspiring would provide more value than the ten comments saying that he is inspiring.

I didn't know anything about him, so I asked.

Near enough all the world's knowledge is available instantly and at your fingertips. It's called a search engine.


I never met him personally, but he did play my company's formula 1 browser game on live tv in the middle of the night and minutes later our servers were bursting from the onslaught of people wanting to play the game. Taught me about the power of tv advertising.

He wanted to boycott the race at Nürburgring saying it’s too dangerous to race there. The track is spread far for emergency personnel to quickly reach any accident.

Ironically he crashed and the rest of the story is well-known.

One of the greats

Compared to today's tracks it's insane to me that Nürburgring was widely used. The logistics at the track are clearly very high stakes and seeing how we could look at how huge that track is and think that's a good idea just shows how far the sport has come.

One thing that gets me about the photo of the scene: Porsche 911 fire extinguisher. If that's not German, I don't know what is.


The safety cars have to be able to get round then track within a reasonable amount of time relative to the F1 cars, especially at the Nordschleife

"Every time I see this it frightens me" - Jackie Stewart talking about the Nurburgring

I had dinner with him on July 7, 2002. It was the time during which he managed the Jaguar F1 team. He is, was quite literally awe-inspiring. Sad day.

This guy was one of a kind. No bullshit and balls of steel. Give it arseholes, Niki!

Also worth mentioning: Long before the advent of current mobility startups, LaudaMotion was previously a Smart car rental, launched in the early '00 which basically offered short-term rides for as low as €1/day.

The BBC broadcast a documentary in 1996 about James Hunt’s F1 rivalry with Lauda:


This rivalry was also depicted in the film Rush (2013) which Lauda stated he was fairly pleased with.



Niki is going to be missed greatly around F1, what a fighter.

> Niki Lauda was given up for dead and administered the last rites by a priest. [1976]

What Niki said to the priest at this point is a matter for debate....

- https://www.formula1.com/en/drivers/hall-of-fame/Niki_Lauda....

True champion. Rest in peace. Inspired many.

I hope they will be playing Hans' masterpiece "Lost but Won" at his funeral

Graham Bensinger has an interview series with Niki. It goes deep into his life, struggles, and successes.


MB 1/2 in his honor at Monaco...not that its much of a stretch.

To be fair, it's historically not a great circuit for them (they were scary fast in sector 3 at Barcelona though... so that doesn't bode well for Ferrari/RB)

They won it four times in a row recently, and they have the best car in low speed corners this season.

Ferrari, on the other hand, could be having to fight with Haas at this rate. However, the only projections I've seen used S3 data from before the testing day and Ferrari apparently have new suspension (Which is very important around monaco)

I find it profoundly interesting to read these comments and no see a single mention of the not-so-awesome parts about him.

The man just died.

No one is perfect, but let's celebrate his life for now, shall we?

If you have a bone to pick, come back later?

I don't understand what's interesting about it. Why would anyone think that a post about his death would be a good place to do that?

Care to elaborate?

What do you have in mind? I'm sure he's not sinless but he wasn't exacting owning slaves and preaching freedom

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