Niki Lauda: Formula One legend dies, aged 70

21 May

Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has died.

His family said the 70-year-old ‘passed away peacefully’ on Monday in a statement reported by the Austria Press Agency.

Two of Lauda’s three titles were won after a terrible crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976 that left him with serious burns
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“His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable,” the statement said.

“His tireless drive, his straightforwardness and his courage remain an example and standard for us all. Away from the public gaze, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him very much.”

Since then, tributes have poured in for the Austrian, who was labelled a ‘legend’ by former racer Jenson Button.

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A legend has left us. Rest in peace Niki 😔 #nikilauda

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Lauda narrowly escaped death in 1976 when his Ferrari crashed at the Nurburgring in Germany.

He made a miraculous recovery despite horrific burns and finished second in the championship to Britain’s James Hunt.

The rivalry between the pair was later made into a film in 2013, starring Daniel Bruhl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt.

Lauda went on to win two of his three titles as well as becoming a prominent figure in the aviation industry.

Scuderia Ferrari tweeted: “Today is a sad day for F1. The big family of Ferrari 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”

In 1979 he left the sport to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air.

He briefly returned to racing following an offer from McLaren, winning the F1 drivers’ championship for a third time in 1984, before retiring for good the following year.

Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003.

In later years, he served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team and formed a close bond with driver Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013.

Over the past few decades, Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

In August last year, he underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a ‘serious lung illness.’

He was released for rehabilitation nearly four months later but was back in hospital in January with influenza.

The world of motor sport has mourned the death of Lauda at the age of 70, with Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button among those to pay their respects
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The doctor that performed the transplant, Walter Klepetko, confirmed his death early on Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported.

Lauda is survived by his second wife Birgit, and his children, Max, Mia, Mathias, Lukas and Christoph.