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To Hell and Back: An Autobiography By Nikki Lauda & Kevin Eason

Release date: 01st March, 2020
Publisher: Corgi

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £12.05
You Save: £6.94 (36%)
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Nikki Lauda, who died last May aged 70, wrote two earlier autobiographies. The first, For The Record, was published in 1978, while a 1986 version, To Hell and Back appeared immediately after he had retired permanently from Formula One racing.

The second book was never updated, an oversight which Kevin Eason, The Times’ F1 correspondent, seeks to put right in this very readable account, by focusing “on stories, events and anecdotes” that would have been occupying Lauda’s mind, so creating a “part autobiography, part portrait”, a description that works well.

Lauda’s epic, season-long battle with James Hunt for the 1976 F1 crown had captured the public’s imagination when the Austrian was involved in an horrific crash at the Nurburgring. Dragged from the ensuing inferno, Lauda was so badly injured he was administered the last rites; few expected him to survive the horrific burns and extensive physical injury he had suffered.

Yet Lauda was a man of extraordinary courage. A mere 42 days after a crash that almost killed him, he lined up on the grid at Monza: “His wounds bled, he had no eyelids and couldn’t blink, so he could hardly see the track,” writes Eason. A year later, he reclaimed the F1 title with Ferrari.

To Hell and Back is liberally sprinkled with anecdotes that successfully capture the ‘real’ Nikki Lauda. He was certainly a man who knew his worth; Eason tells the story of how, in 1979, he demanded a pay rise, to $2 million a year, of his then boss, Bernie Ecclestone. Initially, Ecclestone refused until the pair met with the team’s sponsor and Lauda was introduced as the number one driver. Lauda stunned the meeting by saying he wouldn’t drive until he received an assurance regarding his pay; Ecclestone paid up.

Elsewhere, we learn that he had an indifferent attitude towards silverware and would throw some trophies away. A local garage owner told Lauda he would like to have them and from then on, Lauda would give the man his trophies – in return for free car washes.

Lauda was often portrayed as curt, but as Eason notes, he could be polite, was usually great company and was unfailingly courteous to women. He was also something of a philosopher as a quote on the book’s cover attributed to him confirms: “A lot of people criticise Formula One as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did what was necessary?” It’s difficult to argue with that.

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