So long, farewell: A look at the journey of F1 legend Niki Lauda

Updated: May 22, 2019, 08:29 IST | AFP | Vienna

F1 legend and three-time champion Lauda, 70, drives into Elysian Fields; passes away in Austria

Niki Lauda during a practice session with Formula One team Ferrari at the Hockenheim circuit, Germany in 1977. Pic/AFP
Niki Lauda during a practice session with Formula One team Ferrari at the Hockenheim circuit, Germany in 1977. Pic/AFP

Legendary F1 driver Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70, his family said in a statement released to Austrian media on Tuesday. "With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday," the statement read. Lauda's death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant.

"His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain," added the statement. "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."

'Deeply saddened'

Austrian Lauda won the F1 drivers' world championship three times, in 1975 and 1977 for Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren. "All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 F1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away. Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history. #RIPNiki," his former team tweeted on their verified account. Lauda had been non-executive chairman at Mercedes F1 since 2012 and he was instrumental in bringing in Lewis Hamilton to spark a run of success that has brought five consecutive world drivers' and constructors' championships. "A legend has left us. Rest in peace Niki #nikilauda," tweeted 2009 world champion and former McLaren driver Jenson Button as social media exploded with the news of his death.

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."

Miraculous return

During his driving career, Lauda suffered horrific injuries on August 1, 1976 when, having already won five races that season, his vehicle burst into flames on the Nurburgring in Germany. He had severe burns to his face and hands, and inhaled toxic fumes which damaged his lungs. Despite being given the last rites in hospital he made an almost miraculous recovery to race again just six weeks later still bandaged and in intense pain.

He 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 men - which demonstrated the Austrian's extraordinary courage and fighting spirit - was portrayed in the 2013 film "Rush" by American director Ron Howard.

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.

Niki Lauda

The pro journey of Niki Lauda

1968: Without telling his parents, who disapprove of motor racing, Lauda wins his first race in a Mini.
1971: Takes a loan to buy a seat in the March team in F2. In the same year, he got promoted to March F1 team. Makes Grand Prix debut in Austria on August 15.
1973: Takes another loan to buy his way into BRM team.
1974: Gets a huge break when former BRM teammate Clay Regazzoni recommends him to Ferrari.
1974: Enjoys his first Grand Prix victory in Spain.
1975: Emerges as F1's star driver as he becomes world champion for the first time.
1976: Suffers horrific burns and lung damage in a fiery crash at the Nurburgring and is read the last rites in hospital. Miraculously misses only two races and is pipped to the title by James Hunt.
1977: Wins his second world championship with Ferrari.
1978: Joins the Brabham team for a reported $1 million salary.
1979: Retires from the sport during practice for the Canadian GP, saying he "no longer wishes to drive round in circles" for the struggling Brabham outfit.
1982: Returns to racing with McLaren.
1984: Becomes world champion for a third time.
1985: Records the last of 25 GP wins in the Netherlands and retires for good.

Toto Wolff

Mercedes loses a guiding light: Boss Wolff

London: Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda is "irreplaceable", Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in reaction to the death of the Austrian three-time world champion at the age of 70. "Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light," said Wolff in a team statement. "As a teammate 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. Niki, you are quite simply irreplaceable, there will never be another like you."

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