Austrian F1 Legend Niki Lauda Dies at 70

Three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70.

The legendary Austrian, one of the best-known figures in motor racing, took the title for Ferrari in 1975 and 1977 and McLaren in 1984.

For many, he will be remembered for his remarkable recovery and return to racing after being badly burned in a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix.

Lauda, who underwent a lung transplant in August, “passed away peacefully” on Monday, his family said.

After his career as a racing driver, he became an airline entrepreneur and, most recently, a non-executive chairman for the Formula 1 Mercedes team, instrumental in bringing in British driver Lewis Hamilton, who has won five world championships.

“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain a role model and a benchmark for all of us,” his family’s statement said.

Niki Lauda and James Hunt, Grand Prix of Sweden, Anderstorp Raceway, 09 June 1974
Lauda (right) and his rival, British driver James Hunt, in 1974. GETTY IMAGES

On 1 August 1976, one year after winning his first title, he suffered third-degree burns to his head and face and inhaled toxic gases that damaged his lungs after his vehicle burst into flames at Nurburgring.

He was given the last rites in hospital but made an almost miraculous recovery and returned to racing, still bandaged, just 40 days later.

The aftermath of the 1976 accident
The aftermath of the 1976 accident. SNTV

After his career as a racing driver, he became an airline entrepreneur and, most recently, a non-executive chairman for the Formula 1 Mercedes team, instrumental in bringing in British driver Lewis Hamilton, who has won five world championships.

“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain a role model and a benchmark for all of us,” his family’s statement said.

However, ill health followed him into his later years and he underwent a lung transplant in August 2018.

Niki Lauda
Lauda photographed in March 1976

He underwent two kidney transplants, the second kidney donated in 2005 by his then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger, a former flight attendant for his airline whom he married in 2008.

Besides their twins, a boy and a girl born in 2009, Lauda also had three sons from previous relationships.

In January, Lauda spent some 10 days in hospital while suffering from influenza.

How have people reacted?

Mercedes said the passing of their “irreplaceable” chairman “leaves a void in Formula 1”.

“We haven’t just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candour to modern Formula 1,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said.

“It was our honour to call you our chairman – and my privilege to call you my friend,” he added.

McLaren – the team behind his 1984 victory – said he would be “enshrined in our history” in a tweet.

Ferrari’s Formula 1 team, with which Lauda won two world championships in 1975 and 1977, said he would “remain forever in our hearts”.

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton with Niki Lauda during the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Lauda and Lewis Hamilton in 2014. PA

Fellow drivers have also been adding their tributes throughout the morning.

British former F1 champion Jenson Button has called him a “legend” while Nico Rosberg, another former F1 champion, paid tribute to Lauda’s “passion”, “fighting spirit” and “your patience with us youngsters”.

“Myself and… 100 million fans around the world whom you also so strongly inspired to never give up in the hardest of times are thinking of you and your family. Rest in peace,” he said in a statement.

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