Three-time world champion Niki Lauda and the current title holder Sebastian Vettel were brought together by the Red Bulletin magazine this month for a chinwag on F1 past and present, the pressures of success and Niki’s way with the ladies (back in his younger days, of course). Badger’s got a few choice cuts on sample here as well as some video highlights from the interview. For the full feature head over to the www.redbulletin.com – it makes for a great read as we try to eke away the time before the new season gets going.
On Seb’s youth and the ‘burden’ of carrying number one on your car…
Lauda: Now where was I when I was Sebastian’s age? [He turns to the all-knowing interviewer…]
Red Bulletin: At the age of 23 you were racing for March, driving a real lemon, with zero points. Then you went to BRM, drove an even worse lemon, and finished 17th in the World Championship. Still, you obviously caught the eye of Mr Enzo Ferrari, who signed you up for the following season. And then things took off.
Vettel: Niki, for three years you raced with ‘number one’ on your car [Lauda won the world title in 1975, 1977 and 1984]. For me, it’s a first. Did you find being number one an asset or a burden?
Lauda: There’s no better way to start a season. You arrive as number one and everyone thinks: here comes the best. So they have to chase you if they want it for themselves. I regard the number one as a positive. How can you be in any doubt?
Vettel: I’m not in doubt. I just don’t want to have the feeling, ‘If it worked last year, then it’ll work again this year.’ I have to improve to make sure I retain number one.
On the very modern F1 trend of simulator aided development
Lauda: Our problem was that we received no data from the car – there was no form of data recording. So all our test results came from the seat of my pants, or my feeling, which basically means the same thing.
Vettel: You couldn’t even imagine a simulator back then, could you?
Lauda: That would have been pure science fiction. Sebastian, just how reliant are you on the simulator? I hear that some drivers feel nauseous when using it. Apparently it happens to a lot of pilots in flight simulators, too.
Vettel: In the simulator you have a huge screen in front of you and it’s just like sitting in a real car. The whole car jerks to imitate every movement, but if it’s not 100 per cent in sync with the real thing or if there’s a slight lag, or if it moves a little too much or tilts in the wrong way, then you start feeling queasy. I’m more used to it now, though.
Niki on his (relatively) youthful indiscretions…
The best example I can think of is a long while ago – 1984, the Portuguese GP. It was a title decider between Alain Prost and I, but I only needed second place to win the title. My fitness guru, Willi Dungl, knew perfectly well what I was after and said to me: “Hey, there’s a blonde Italian lady running around down there looking all over the place for you.”
She was downstairs and very pretty. I walked over to her and asked her how she was. I took her out to dinner on Friday because I’m a gentleman. She then asked if she could go to dinner with me again on Saturday night. I told her no dinner, but she could come to my room between eight and 10 in the evening. Why? I told her that from 10 I had to sleep because I wanted to become world champion the following day. She said OK, and at 10 minutes to 10 she left my room.
I slept like a log, but when I woke up the next morning I thought, “If there’s a God then I’ve lost the world championship today.” It was weighing on my conscience. My dear colleague, Prost, who was always chewing his nails – always very nervous – stood in the pits the next morning and grinned like a Cheshire cat. I asked him why he had such a stupid grin on his face. He said – can you imagine – that he had met up with Princess Stéphanie of Monaco the night before. I was so unbelievably relieved, because it meant we were equal in the eyes of God, and we could go racing.