17Darling you know that Ferrari is racing today right?18Yes I do Mom19Tifosi20
She was incredible, and so very superstitious!! Garlic necklaces would emerge, anything adorning the number 13 would disappear, and horn symbols with the hand would start every time A.S Roma (her favorite soccer team) was playing, or whenever Ferrari was racing! It was fun and as a child you also tend to follow what your parents do right?! So here I was actually wearing stinky garlic and practicing my new found skill of making horns by closing my fist and extending my pinky and index simultaneously up in the air! It was hard at first but I quickly became a master at it!
James Hunt was on Pole, Niki Lauda was second and Patrick Depailler was third on the grid. My mom and I only had eyes for Lauda of course, not because we knew him, or sympathized with him, or even liked him :-) We just loved the fact that he was racing for Ferrari and everything it represented for us, particularly my mom of course! The weather turned to wet before the race and so most drivers started the race on wet tires, except Jochen Mass, who, having lots of experience at the Nürburgring and expecting a change for better weather, decided to use dry weather tires. At the end of the lap, the weather changed back to dry and most pilots pitted for dry tires, leaving Mass with the second place behind Peterson, who decided to go on wet tires for another lap. I was too young to comprehend the changes in tires and strategy in Formula 1 those days, besides, I didn't really care! For me it was all about seeing the cars dance around on the circuit, sometimes on the limit...sometimes way past it.
Niki Lauda had also changed his tires after lap 1 and was trying hard to make up for the lost time. Just after the fast left kink before the Bergwerk right hand curve, his Ferrari 312T2 snapped to the right and spun through the fencing into an earth bank. The car bounced back onto the track, enveloped in flames. It was horrible to look at. What was happening in front of our eyes only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. My mom started crying silently...I just sat there in utter shock and disbelief. Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic...come on please, why doesn't someone do something I thought as I heard the seconds ticking away on the big clock we had in the room next to us...
Guy Edwards managed to avoid the Ferrari but Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger both hit it. All three drivers stopped and tried to get Lauda out of the flames and they were joined by Merzario who stopped his Wolf Williams after seeing the wreck. Lauda had suffered serious burns and was rushed to the Bundeswehr hospital in Koblenz by helicopter; from there he was flown to the Trauma Clinic in Ludwigshafen, home to Germany's most advanced burn ward at the time, where he fought for his life for the next few days.
We all know how this story ends and just how lucky he was, what a fighter, what a champion, returning to racing a few weeks later suffering from excruciating pain due to the severity and extent of his burns. A close friendship had been formed between Niki and James by now.