Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1984: The Rat begins his title charge; despite Ron Dennis
Before the 1977 F1 season began, Niki Lauda was callously told by his personal sponsor – Romerquelle – that he would only be paid half the promised sponsorship for the season because he only had ‘half a face left’. It was too late to replace the sponsor but this hardened Lauda’s resolve in all negotiations from then on.
When Lauda was negotiating with Brabham owner – Bernie Ecclestone – for the 1978 season, Lauda was requesting the salary of £1 million. Ecclestone baulked at the number and told him: “There’s no way I’m paying that.”
Lauda immediately contacted Parmalat and asked whether they preferred to sponsor Lauda or Brabham in the future – as it seemed unlikely they’d be sponsoring both. Parmalat spoke to Ecclestone who finally signed the contract with Lauda’s specific terms. Parmalat would remain Lauda’s personal sponsors for twenty-five years.
Ron Dennis had taken control of Mclaren in 1981 and immediately made changes. With the support of Marlboro’s John Hogan they approached Lauda to encourage him out of retirement. Dennis wanted an established star but questioned if Lauda still had the ability to return successfully. Lauda’s motive for his return was to raise funds for his expanding airline business but he knew his worth and demanded more money than had ever been paid to any driver in history.
“You’ll be paying just one dollar for my driving ability, all the rest is for my personality.” Dennis was aghast but by the third Grand Prix Lauda and Mclaren were in the winners circle.
In 1984 – Alain Prost won the first race in Brazil but it was the following event of the season that provided ominous warning to the field.
On this day, Lauda dominated the race and finished over a minute ahead of his team-mate and a lap ahead of third place; Derek Warwick. What was numbing was the fact that Prost had started from the pits.
With the Mclaren MP4/2 proving practically unbeatable – the title would always be fought out between Prost and Lauda. The drivers liked and respected one another but the real problems seemed to come from Ron Dennis who turned the whole team against Lauda. (Where have we seen this behaviour since?!)
By mid-season Dennis was offering Lauda a contract for 1985 but at half the price of 1984 because with Prost and an unbeatable car he could play hardball. Lauda spoke to Renault but the talks amounted to nothing. Lauda refused to sign anything before the season had finished and yet Dennis demanded a signature otherwise he would take Rosberg. By September – Marlboro stepped in and assured Lauda two thirds of his fee and he signed the contract.
In Portugal Ron Dennis increased the psychological warfare against the Austrian. He knew a victory for Lauda would become part of the legend whereas a victory for Prost would be a Mclaren championship.
Little incidents in the practice sessions and someone from Mclaren opening a box with “Prost 1984 Champion” posters and displaying them un-nerved the Frenchman. Lauda was immune to it all – after all, when you have survived being burnt alive there isn’t much that will cause anxiousness in your life.
After securing the 1984 title Lauda offered: “Ron Dennis congratulates me and says how pleased he is. I don’t believe him for a minute.”