Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda dies at the age of 70. The Austrian driver claimed the prestigious titles for Ferrari in 1975 and 1977 and McLaren in 1984. Over the recent months Lauda struggled with his health.
He underwent a lung transplant in August, and “passed away peacefully” on Monday, according to a statement issued by his family. “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.
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Lauda will be remembered for his remarkable recovery and return to racing after being badly burned in a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix. 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 read his last rites in his hospital bed.
Recovering from near death, he climbed back into the cockpit of his racecar a matter of weeks after his accident and went on to challenge James Hunt for the 1976 title. Their rivalry and the intense battle was subject of the Hollywood blockbuster Rush.
“I said then and later that I had conquered my fear quickly and cleanly,” Lauda wrote in To Hell And Back. “That was a lie. But it would have been foolish to play into the hands of my rivals by confirming my weakness. At Monza, I was rigid with fear.”
Tenacious Lauda opened his own airline, Lauda Air, after retiring from racing. In recent years he returned to the F1 paddock as a non-executive chairman for the Formula 1 Mercedes team. He was instrumental in bringing in British driver Lewis Hamilton who has won five world championships for the German outfit.
Words of praise
Ferrari, “Today is a sad day for F1. The great Ferrari family learns with deep sadness the news of the death of our friend Niki Lauda, three times world champion, two with the Scuderia (1975-1977). You will remain forever in our hearts and in those of the fans. #CiaoNiki
McLaren, “All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 Formula 1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away. Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history.”
Toto Wolff, Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport:
“First of all, on behalf of the team and all at Mercedes, I wish to send our deepest condolences to Birgit, Niki’s children, his family and close friends. Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport – he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit.
“His passing leaves a void in Formula One. 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 One. He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense.
“Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light. As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest – and utterly loyal. It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team’s success. Whenever he walked the floor in Brackley and Brixworth, or delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought an energy that nobody else could replicate.
“Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you. It was our honour to call you our Chairman – and my privilege to call you my friend.”