Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70, his family has confirmed.
Lauda, who won the F1 drivers’ championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren, passed away on Monday – eight months after undergoing a lung transplant.
The Austrian died at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland surrounded by his closest family, a spokesman said, after he was reported to have gone in for dialysis treatment earlier this month.
Lauda had two kidney transplants in his life – the first in 1997 with an organ donated by his brother, and then again in 2005 donated by his future wife Birgit Wetzinger, who was then his girlfriend
The F1 racer was considered one of the sport’s greatest ever drivers and in 1976 was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix, but made an astonishingly fast return to racing just six weeks later.
In a statement, his family said: ‘With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday.’
‘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, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed.’
Walter Klepetko, a doctor who performed a lung transplant on Lauda last year, said simply: ‘Niki Lauda has died. I have to confirm that.’
Ferrari tweeted: ‘Everyone at Ferrari is deeply saddened at the news of the death of our dear friend Niki Lauda.’
The McLaren Formula 1 team tweeted a tribute to Lauda on Tuesday, saying they were ‘deeply saddened’ at his death. ‘Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history,’ the team said.
Former F1 world champion Jenson Button also paid tribute to Lauda on Twitter. ‘A legend has left us. Rest in peace Niki,’ Button tweeted.
‘Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalised in our history. The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend,’ Formula 1 said on Twitter.
Former motorcycling world champion Casey Stoner said on Twitter: ‘RIP Niki Lauda, a true Icon and Motorsport legend. Thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time.’
Former F1 driver Johnny Herbert, describing Lauda as ‘courageous, chatty, and extremely funny’, added on Twitter: ‘I am going to miss you being around the @F1 paddock but the legend of Niki Lauda will live on, because you were a very very special man.’
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Lauda ‘fought himself back into life multiple times’.
‘With Niki Lauda, Austria loses one of its greatest personalities… He is a role model for courage, discipline and directness,’ he said on Twitter.
‘A highly accomplished athlete and entrepreneur, Niki is an inspiration to many both on and off the racetrack, pushing everyone on his team to always strive for the best,’ Colin Syn, deputy chairman of the Singapore Grand Prix, said in a statement.
Born on February 22, 1949 as Andreas Nikolaus into a wealthy Vienna industrial family, he was expected to follow his father’s footsteps into the paper-manufacturing industry, but instead concentrated his business talents and determination on his dreams of becoming a racing driver.
In 1968, without telling his parents, Lauda won his first race with a Mini Racer he had bought with his grandmother’s help.
Lauda financed his early career with the help of a string of loans, working his way through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2.
He made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix and picked up his first points in 1973 with a fifth-place finish for BRM in Belgium.
Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, winning a Grand Prix for the first time that year in Spain and his first drivers’ title with five victories the following season.
Facing tough competition from McLaren’s James Hunt, he appeared on course to defend his title in 1976 when he crashed at the Nuerburgring during the German Grand Prix.
Several drivers stopped to help pull him from the burning car, but the accident would scar him for life – leaving him with third-degree burns to his head and neck.
In order to hide the scars Lauda took to wearing a baseball cap in public, which became a personal trademark.
‘The main damage, I think to myself, was lung damage from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the car for about 50 seconds,’ he recalled nearly a decade later. ‘It was something like 800 degrees.’
Lauda fell into a coma for a time and was given the last rites in hospital. He said that ‘for three or four days it was touch and go’.
‘Then my lungs recovered and I got my skin grafts done, then basically there was nothing left,’ he said.
‘I was really lucky in a way that I didn’t do any (other) damage to myself. So the real question was then will I be able to drive again, because certainly it was not easy to come back after a race like that.’
Lauda made his comeback just six weeks after the crash, head still bandaged, finishing fourth at Monza after overcoming his initial fears.
He recalled ‘shaking with fear’ as he changed into second gear on the first day of practice and thinking, ‘I can’t drive.’
The next day, Lauda said he ‘started very slowly trying to get all the feelings back, especially the confidence that I’m capable of driving these cars again.’
The result, he said, boosted his confidence and after four or five races ‘I had basically overcome the problem of having an accident and everything went back to normal.’
Despite Lauda’s incredible comeback, he lost the driver’s championship that season to Hunt, with whom he had a legendary rivalry.
Their struggle for supremacy was depicted in the 2013 film Rush. Hunt was played by Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, while Spanish-born actor Daniel Bruhl played the role of Lauda.
He won his second championship in 1977 before switching to Brabham and then retiring in 1979 to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air, declaring that he ‘didn’t want to drive around in circles any more.’
Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3million a year.
He finished fifth his first year back and 10th in 1983, but came back to win five races and edge out teammate Alain Prost for his third title in 1984.
He retired for good the following year, saying he needed more time to devote to his airline business.
Initially a charter airline, Lauda Air expanded in the 1980s to offer flights to Asia and Australia.
In May 1991, a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.
Lauda occasionally took the controls of the airline’s jets himself over the years. In 1997, longtime rival Austrian Airlines took a minority stake and in 2000, with the company making losses, he resigned as board chairman after an external audit criticized a lack of internal financial control over business conducted in foreign currency. Austrian Airlines later took full control.
Lauda was instrumental in luring Hamilton away from his previous home at McLaren, often backing him in public and providing advice and counsel to the British driver.
Lauda also intervened as a Mercedes mediator when Hamilton and his former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg feuded, argued and traded barbs as they fought for the title between 2014-16
In August 2018, Lauda underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a ‘serious lung illness.’
In January this year he was admitted to hospital with influenza. Lauda also worked in a consulting role for Ferrari in 1993 and was team principal of Jaguar in 2001 and 2002
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