Ron Dennis scored the coup of 1981 when he announced before the Caesar’s Palace race that double world champion Niki Lauda would be coming out of retirement to partner John Watson in 1982. The space-age carbon-fibre MP4/1 chassis from 1981 would continue in use into 1982, still powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV, although the team were hoping to persuade sponsor TAG to fund a turbo engine for the future. Owner Teddy Mayer and manager Ron Dennis occasionally clashed, but the team seemed to be pulling out of their late-70s slump and with two top drivers could go better in 1982.
The veteran Ulsterman was retained for another season at McLaren after consistently outperforming Andrea de Cesaris and taking a trio of ascending podium places: 3rd in Spain, 2nd in France and a home win at Silverstone, plus second and fastest lap in atrocious conditions in Canada.
One of Formula One’s major stars of the 1970s, Lauda had begun his F1 career with March, then BRM, before being picked up by Ferrari in 1974 on the recommendation of Clay Regazzoni. His career was defined by his duels with McLaren’s James Hunt for the mid-70s, taking the 1975 and 77 championships with Hunt victorious in ’76. Moving to Brabham for 1978 proved disastrous and he walked out on the team two races before the end of 1979. Since then he had founded his own airline – Lauda Air – but by late 1981 it was financially in trouble and Niki was tempted back by Marlboro’s reputed $3m per season deal, not to mention the opportunity to go out on a high after all.