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F1 Honors Niki Lauda at Monaco Grand Prix

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The Monaco Grand Prix is traditionally the biggest, most glamorous party on the Formula One calendar, but the tone will be a little more somber at the 2019 event.

Niki Lauda, three-time F1 champion, aviation entrepreneur, and non-executive chairman to the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, died peacefully a few days ago in his sleep, aged 70, following a period of difficulty with his kidney.

Lauda was well-loved around the F1 paddock for his honesty and tenacity. His story in F1 is one for the ages, especially the famous events of 1976. Less than a year after claiming his first championship victory, he was involved in a horrible crash that nearly killed him. He would be physically scarred for life yet he returned to F1 the same year, nearly won the championship again, and then did win it once more in 1977 and 1984.

But he was just as tenacious off the track as he was on it. In 1991, one of his commercial airplanes, a Boeing 767, crashed and killed all 223 people on board because the thrust reversers had engaged mid-flight. It should never have been possible, but Boeing argued that even if this did occur, a pilot should be able to recover and make the event survivable.

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Lauda, who involved himself personally in the investigation, tested Boeing’s claim in the simulator and found it at odds with reality. He pressed Boeing to admit the event was not survivable, but it refused to do so until Lauda said he would fly on a 767 with two pilots and have the thrust reverser deploy in air. Boeing was forced to admit this would kill him, finally made an official statement, and ultimately revised its designs to ensure it could not happen again.

At the Monaco Grand Prix, the teams and drivers will commemorate Niki Lauda in various ways. Some drivers created special helmet designs while teams have included symbols on their cars in his honor. For example, the halo on the Mercedes car will be red rather than silver, and the team will run a single red star for the rest of the season among the many present on the engine cover. Ferrari and Haas both have Niki Lauda script on their car in the same font his cars bore in the 1970s. Additionally, all 20 drivers and dignitaries at the front of the grid will hold a red cap as tribute to Lauda during a minute’s silence before the race.

Lauda was an absolute legend of the sport and one of the few drivers still alive who had raced during one of its most dangerous eras. He will certainly be missed.

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