Three-time Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda died at the age of 70 on May 20

By Joelle Goldstein
May 31, 2019 08:12 PM
Niki Lauda's funeral
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Legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda was farewelled by thousands of people from the racing community who showed up to pay their final respects after he died earlier this month at the age of 70.

As Lauda’s body was escorted out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday, it was accompanied by fellow F1 racer and five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton, 34, who races for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, somberly walked alongside Lauda’s coffin after the private service, wearing all-black with a fedora and sunglasses.

The pair became close friends after Lauda became a non-executive chairman for the Formula 1 Mercedes team, which Hamilton joined in 2013.

Lewis Hamilton at Niki Lauda's funeral
Karl Schoendorfer/Shutterstock

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Since Lauda’s passing, the British racer has been open about his grieving process and even dedicated his recent Monaco Grand Prix victory on May 26 to the late driver.

“That was for you, Niki. Your fighting spirit was right there with me every step of the way,” Hamilton wrote on his social media accounts.

“I know you are looking down and taking your hat off to us. I miss you, we truly miss you and I hope we did you proud today, legend,” he added.

Lewis Hamilton
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The five-time world champ wasn’t the only racecar driver to pay tribute to Lauda and walk beside his coffin on Wednesday. Walking right behind him were former drivers Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Nelson Piquet, and Gerhard Berger.

Prost, a four-time world champion, also wrote a sweet tribute to Lauda on his Instagram after his passing.

“He was not only the best team mate . He was a real friend .A man with a big heart . You are a part of my life Rip my friend ❤️” he captioned the black-and-white photo.

RELATED: Legendary Race Car Driver Niki Lauda Dies at the Age of 70

Other notable people in attendance for Lauda’s funeral mass included drivers Sir Jackie Stewart and Nico Rosberg, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen, according to BBC News.

At one point during the day, Hamilton joined Lauda’s family outside, including his widow Birgit Wetzinger and their children, 9-year-old twins Mia and Max.

Lauda’s son Lukas, 40 (whom he shares with ex-wife Marlene Knuas) was also there, walking ahead of his father’s coffin holding his red racing helmet.

From left: Niki Lauda's widow Birgit, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG GP team chief Toto Wolff, and Lauda's children Mia, Max and Lukas
CHRISTIAN BRUNA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Lauda’s family confirmed that the iconic racer “passed away peacefully” on May 20. His cause of death was not publicly announced by the family.

“His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable,” the statement, obtained by Austria Press Agency, 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.”

Lauda made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix. He placed fifth for BRM in Belgium in 1973.

The following year, Lauda joined Ferrari and won a Grand Prix for the first time in Spain. He later went on to score the F1 driver’s championship in 1975 with Ferrari.

Niki Lauda
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Lauda’s fast-moving career took a dramatic halt in 1976 when he was badly burned in a crash at the Nürburgring during the German Grand Prix.

“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,” Lauda said, according to USA Today. “It was something like 800 degrees.”

Following the terrifying incident, Lauda left in a coma. “Then my lungs recovered and I got my skin grafts done, then basically there was nothing left,” Lauda said, according to USA Today.

“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.”

Just six weeks after the accident, Lauda returned to the tracks. He won his second championship in 1977 with Ferrari and briefly retired in 1979, but came out of retirement in 1982 and went on to score his third title with McLaren in 1984.

Niki Lauda
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He then retired for good in 1985 to focus on being an airline businessman. Lauda is the only driver to have been a champion for both Ferrari and McLaren.

His heated rivalry with British McLaren racer James Hunt was the subject of Ron Howard‘s 2013 film, Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda.

The former Ferrari racer underwent a lung transplant in 2018 after being diagnosed with “severe lung disease,” and was hospitalized with influenza this year, according to CNN.

Lauda previously had two kidney transplants, one from his brother in 1997 and one from his girlfriend in 2005, Fox News reported.

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