In the second lap of 1976’s German Grand Prix, held at the Nürburgring, Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T2 suffered a rear suspension failure, ultimately resulting in a collision with a Surtees-Ford driven by Brett Lunger.
The crash left Lauda’s car in flames at the side of the track. Despite heroic rescue efforts from Lunger and fellow drivers Arturo Merzario, Guy Edwards and Harald Ertl, Lauda remained pinned in the wreckage, unable to exit the burning race car.
By the time Lauda was extricated, the Austrian F1 star had suffered serious burns to his head and hands. Worse, he’d inhaled toxic smoke and hot gases, damaging his lungs and poisoning his blood. Against overwhelming odds, the driver recovered and returned to the track just three races later, finishing fourth in the 1976 Italian Grand Prix.
Lauda’s amazing story, and his rivalry with British F1 star James Hunt, will be the subject of "Rush," a new motion picture from director Ron Howard. Lauda’s crash factors heavily in the picture, so an accurate recreation was essential. Caught by the staff of Bridge to Gantry (and spotted on Evo), this scene gives an idea of the movie’s intensity.
Lauda’s crash ultimately resulted in vast improvements to F1 safety, including the end of competition on the Nürburgring. While Lauda himself suffered permanent and disfiguring injuries, there’s no way to estimate the number of lives he ultimately may have saved by helping to modernize the sport of motor racing.