Niki Lauda is well known and loved in the Formula 1 paddock – not just for this three world championships and heroic recovery from a crash that almost killed him, but for his outspoken nature. F1’s elderly fan has courted controversy on more than one occasion, but perhaps never more famously than during his time as team principal of the Jaguar team.
Jaguar initially struggled in F1 (and to be honest, never really got any better) so in 2001 Ford appointed Lauda as team principal in the hope of improving things. It didn’t quite work – after accusing Eddie Irvine of only being quick when he was in the right mood, he claimed that F1 cars could be driven by a monkey because of all the driver aids they had. Not the best way to boost morale in a team.
With that in mind, in January 2002 a test was arranged for Lauda to have a few laps in a Jaguar at Valencia in order to give him a greater understanding of modern F1 cars and what was required of both the team and the drivers. It didn’t exactly go well, as he span twice at the same corner in his first three laps, stalling on the second occasion and having to be towed back to the pits. He went back out and completed some more laps without drama, but his lap times were some 15 seconds off that of the regular drivers.
Lauda didn’t quite apologise for his previous comments, stating that he still felt it was easier to drive than the cars of his era, but did admit he’d gained more understanding of the technical aspects of the car. Perhaps it’s unfair to criticise a man who was 51 at the time and hadn’t driven a single-seater in almost 17 years for not being brilliant, but his comments certainly came back to bite him and made the whole thing slightly amusing.
He’s since made similar comments about F1 cars being too easy to drive, so maybe he hasn’t learned his lesson, or maybe he just genuinely believes it. Or maybe he knows that with testing time for modern cars heavily restricted by the FIA, he won’t have to try and prove himself again. Never change, Niki.