"His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable," the family said in a statement

By Robyn Merrett
May 21, 2019 01:22 AM
Credit: Luca Bruno/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda has died. He was 70.

His family confirmed the iconic racer’s death on Monday, explaining Lauda “passed away peacefully.”

“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.”

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1949, Lauda pursued a racing career against his family’s wishes. He was expected to follow his father into the paper manufacturing industry.

With the help of several bank loans, Lauda bought his way through the ranks of Formula 3 — a class of open-wheel formula racing that is regarded as the first major stepping stone for Formula 1 hopefuls. He later made his way to Formula 2.

He 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.

Niki Lauda
| Credit: AP/REX/Shutterstock

He later went on to score the F1 driver’s championship in 1975 with Ferrari.

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.

Niki Lauda
| Credit: I T N/REX/Shutterstock

“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.

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 and scored his third title with McLaren in 1984. 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 most recent venture included becoming a non-executive chairman for the Formula 1 Mercedes team, where he grew a close relationship with racer Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013.

Niki Lauda
| Credit: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Lauda’s racing career was made into the 2013 film Rush, which followed the rivalry between Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).

Just last year, Lauda underwent a lung transplant due to a “serious lung illness,” according to USA Today. It is not immediately clear if the procedure is at all related to his death or his crash.

Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit and their two children.

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Lauda is also father to two adult sons Lukas and Mathias from his first marriage to Marlene Knuas.

Since news of his death broke, a plethora of fans and fellow race drivers have honored him on Twitter.

Niki Lauda
| Credit: Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock

“RIP @NikiLauda. The racing world will never know another like you! #WorldChampion,” driver Chip Ganassi wrote.

“Rip Niki Lauda, a true Icon and Motorsport legend. Thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time,” motorcycle racer Casey Stoner tweeted.

McLaren also spoke out about Lauda’s death writing, “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.”