The sempiternelle red advertising cap testified: there was no small profit for Niki Lauda who, in addition to his status as legend of F1, cultivated a picture of businessman bitter to gain and multiplied the good deals in the air field.
Not content to have “won the F1 World Championship three times, he was also a really strong businessman,” Franz Tost, the boss of the Toro Rosso F1 team, said in a tweet, among the many tributes.
The former driver who died on Monday at the age of 70 had, according to Trend magazine, accumulated a fortune of 150 to 400 million euros, sheltered partly in a system of “foundations” as legal as fiscally advantageous.
But his Viennese villa valued at some 10 million euros, his yacht of 47 meters, his property in the Balearic Islands and the private long-haul jet that he flew himself had not made this industrialist forget the value things.
“I do not buy a sweater or pants until the old ones are worn or washed out to the point of being no longer portable, and only then,” he once explained to the German magazine Focus.
Legend has it that he and his French rival Alain Prost made the bet to perform an entire promotional tour without spending “a single dollar”.
A sense of economics – his detractors spoke of greed – which Lauda had made a marketing argument. He had thus realized an advertising campaign for an online bank in which he stressed that he had “no gifts to make”.
In a well-known phrase, he did not hesitate to joke about his own turn of mind: “Given the current salaries of the pilots, if I were an American, I would probably sue my mother to get me born too soon “.
This form of cynicism was strongly criticized for his refusal to assist Roger Williamson in the accident that killed the British driver at the 1973 GP in the Netherlands. “I get paid to ride, not for me” stop, “Lauda explained. Who himself had to be fired from the flames by competitors three years later on the Nürburgring …
- – Pioneer of charter –
But Niki Lauda was also and above all a clever investor and visionary in the air transport, his other favorite area alongside F1 where he continued until the end to work as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.
A pioneer of private charter, he created in 1979 his first airline, Lauda Air, which he sold in 2002 with profit to the national airline Austrian Airlines, eleven years after the crash of one of his aircraft on a flight Bangkok-Vienna ( 223 dead).
In 2004, this confirmed airline pilot, who also runs a small business jet company, launched his new baby: the low-cost company Niki, which he says will be “profitable from the first year”.
Lauda finally sells Niki to his rival Air Berlin in 2011, for a very comfortable gain.
When the German company goes bankrupt in 2017, it manages thanks to a blow of three-band billiard which it has the secret and with the support of the Austrian State to recover Niki under the nose and the beard of the Hispano-British group IAG / Vueling, previously retained.
After buying Niki for 47 million euros in January 2018, it sells 75% a few weeks later to Ryanair for 50 million. The Austrian finally sold all his shares to the Irish group, while remaining co-leader of the company, renamed LaudaMotion and Lauda.
A bonnet master? “I think I know how to spend my money at the right time,” the former driver once summed up.
His concern for economy is also reflected in his management of staff: Lauda likes to outsource employees, refuses works councils and affiliation to collective agreements, which he says evoke the “depths of the Eastern Bloc”.
The father of four children from two different marriages, however, also knew disinterested: in 1996, in Rwanda still devastated by the war, he had flown to Kigali a plane of humanitarian aid.