We haven't heard the last from Niki Lauda, the three-time F1 World Driving Champion who died May 20 at age 70. A heretofore unpublished interview will appear in F1 Mavericks, a book by Pete Biro and George Levy slated to appear this summer. The book covers Formula 1 racing from 1960 to 1982, an era that includes Lauda's first two world championships. Illustrated with photos by ace lensman Biro, the longtime Car and Driver West Coast editor, with text by Levy, our current advertising columnist, the book includes the Lauda interview as an afterword. The late Biro and Levy previously collaborated on the award-winning Can Am 50th Anniversary.
As the F1 community pays tribute to Lauda at this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix-a race he won twice among his 25 F1 victories-we bring you this exclusive excerpt from Levy's extended interview, conducted in early 2018 when the Austrian was still regularly attending F1 races as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes-Benz team. This excerpt from F1 Mavericks concentrates on Lauda's views about the current era. The afterword also includes much discussion of the 1970s and the subsequent 1980s turbocharged formula during which Lauda won his third title, in 1984.
Are the drivers today the same types of people they were in your day?
They are the same types of people because they all have to drive these cars quick. The difference is, from the character and personality point of view, they are not the same at all. There are some, like Lewis [Hamilton], like [Max] Verstappen in a way, like [Sebastian] Vettel if he gets upset and aggressive, Kimi [Räikkönen] because he does not talk, [Valtteri] Bottas [also] does not talk, but the rest you can forget. You will not remember any of these guys. Oh, they might know them because you people outside push it, but not because they are gladiators anymore. This is the catch. Because in my time or earlier it was more dangerous. People had different characters. Everybody had to overcome fear. Everybody had to be a different personality from this [condition]. Today all this is not asked anymore. They don’t need it.
What do you think Formula 1 needs to recapture that excitement for the fans? What are the core ingredients to make it exciting for the fans?
The core ingredients to be exciting: get rid of all these stupid rules we all introduced. Start with five-places-back for gearbox, engines, 10 [grid penalties]; all this manipulating the sport. We have moved away from basic racing, where you see how the drivers fight with the cars to their physical limits and then make mistakes, or not. Which makes the difference. All this is drifting away.
At the moment we are driving in a very boring Formula 1 time. Five years ago it was better. I think this Formula 1 boring time will continue until [the Concorde Agreement] is over in 2020, and we will have to cope with it. It's not going in the right direction. It's going downwards. People are less and less interested. Not because the racing is boring. The whole attraction of Formula 1 is gone.
We all complain about this Halo bullshit, but if you look at the thing, and what it does, the attraction is gone. You should see at least a human being sitting in the car driving, then you see maybe in his head movements how hard it is. But you don't realize. You don't even see it. Lewis did a lap in Bahrain [2018 season] or somewhere-six-tenths quicker than the others-and I don't even see it. Me, and I know what to look at. I don't even realize it. When I see the lap time, I’m like, "Fuck, he’s quick." All this is going wrong.
Look at the [Moto GP] motorbikes. The motorbikes are still going as they were always going. Attractive. Aggressive. You see what these guys do. Why did we change Formula 1 around so stupid? We keep going backwards and backwards and backwards. Motorbikes are still exactly the same as 100 years [ago] and they're still as attractive as at the first day. But why? Because they don't change the rules over time. The FIA doesn't get involved in making everything safe, putting Halos on the thing. They keep the basics going. We are destroying slowly the basics. We are going in the direction of, I don't know, a playground for . . . how are these things called? What the kids play? Computer games. This is how it looks today. They are making the cars so safe and so stable and so whatever that this is all going wrong.
How much of that do you think is the circuits?
The circuits, it's a combination of having runoff areas everywhere and no more close guardrails where you see how quick they go. All of this development goes hand in hand. Circuits. Cars. Halos. All this is going years, step by step, small steps into the wrong direction, I think.
If you could take a car from today and race it on one racetrack that you raced on in the '70s to capture that excitement, where would you go?
Nürburgring. Nordschleife. But it can't be. If you ask me this question, I give you that answer. But you cannot go back and make it more dangerous. You can't go back. But we have to stop all these extra things we load onto Formula 1 in little steps to make it completely . . . The only excitement today is the start [of the race]. At the start, they’re all going into the first corner, the tires smoke, they go forwards and backwards and [at that moment] you think, ah, something unexpected will happen. After the start, more or less, most of the races are not interesting anymore. Overtaking complaints: there was no overtaking in Melbourne and 55 overtakes in Bahrain, it's fine. But overtaking today, for me, the circuits are so wide and there's asphalt right and left [i.e., runoff areas], there's not any excitement. Because they go next to each other into the corner. Whereas in my times or early times people go next to each other into the corner, the guy's two centimeters away from the grass or guardrail. The other [driver] is pushing him. Is it going to happen now? Is he getting by or not? Today, nobody cares when they go [side by side], there's no more excitement because nothing's happening. The worst thing is if the front wing of one car damages the tire of the other one. That's the only excitement you can see.
Have people complained about overtaking ever since you’ve been in F1?
There's always been racing where there was no overtaking and there was overtaking. For me, today the problem is the excitement of overtaking. Lewis did the only good thing in Bahrain, where he passed three cars [in one move]. This was, for me, exciting. Does he make it or not? But all the other overtaking is [predictable]. And with the DRS you know exactly who's coming. He goes to the inside. Okay, he defends a bit. The only excitement I look at is [whether] he stay there. But we’re destroying the sport, in this respect.
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