Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Niki Lauda, legendary three-time F1 world champion, dies at age 70

Austrian Lauda won the F1 title in 1975 and 1977 for Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren. His death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant

Legendary three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70, his family said in a statement on Tuesday.

Lauda won the F1 title in 1975 and 1977 for Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren. His death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant.

The family said in a statement that Lauda died peacefully at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland on Monday night surrounded by his closest family members.

"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday," the statement read.

"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."

News of Lauda's death triggered an outpouring of praise from the motorsport fraternity for the Austrian whose track victories and comeback from a horrific crash enthralled race fans worldwide.

British team McLaren, whom Lauda raced for from 1982 to 1985, paid tribute to one of the sport's most beloved figures.

"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. #RIPNiki," his former team tweeted.

"Everyone at Ferrari is deeply saddened at the news of the death of our dear friend Niki Lauda," Ferrari said on its Twitter account.

The official Formula One Twitter account said it mourned the loss of a "true legend".

Lauda had been non-executive chairman at Mercedes F1 since 2012. The German marque have established themselves as the dominant force in F1, winning five consecutive world drivers' (Lewis Hamilton four, Nico Rosberg one) and constructors' championships.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Lauda was "irreplaceable" and that the team had lost "a guiding light".

"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."

Lauda was born as Andreas Nikolaus on February 22, 1949, in Vienna into an upper middle-class family, who did not share his passion for cars.

In 1968, without telling his parents, Lauda won his first race with a Mini Racer he had bought with his grandmother's help.

During his F1 career, Lauda suffered horrific injuries on August 1, 1976 when, having already won five races that season, his vehicle burst into flames at the Nurburgring in Germany.

He suffered severe burns to his face and damaged his lungs while he was trapped in his car that had burst into flames.

Despite being given last rites in hospital he made an almost miraculous recovery to race again only six weeks later, still bandaged and in intense pain.

Displaying extraordinary courage and fighting spirit, Lauda missed only two races that season but was unable to hold off the challenge of Britain's James Hunt, who went on to claim his only world title.

The rivalry between the two was portrayed in the 2013 film Rush by American director Ron Howard.

The next season, in 1977, Lauda went on to win his second Formula One world championship with Ferrari.

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Niki Lauda's life in pictures

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He quit Formula One at the end of 1979 to pursue his second passion, civil aviation.

But he was lured back to F1 in 1982, this time with McLaren, and won his last world championship with them in 1984, beating teammate Alain Prost by 0.5 points, even though the Frenchman won more races that year.

Away from the track Lauda was an entrepreneur and businessman. He founded founded and then sold several airlines with a majority stake of his latest going to Ryanair in 2018.

Lauda underwent an emergency lung transplant in a Vienna hospital in August 2 last year after contracting an infection in his lungs, which were scarred and weakened by the effects of inhaling high-temperature smoke during the 1976 accident.

Years before, he had also received kidney transplants. When one failed, a second kidney was donated by his then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger, a former flight attendant, who he married in 2008.

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

Lauda's passing is the second death of an influential F1 figure this year.

On March 14, long-standing race director Charlie Whiting, 66, died of a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot, on the eve of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Updated: May 21, 2019 02:56 PM

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