Niki Lauda, Legendary Formula One Driver, Dead at 70

Austrian Formula One racing champion Niki Lauda died on Monday, his family said. He was 70 years old.

niki-lauda_getty-Mike Powell : Staff
(Photo: Mike Powell / Staff, Getty)

"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday," The Austria Press Agency reported his family said.

"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," his family's statement continued.

Lauda earned F1 world champion titles in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Despite suffering severe burns in a horrific 1976 crash, he managed a miraculous comeback (he was even given last rites while in the hospital) just weeks later and went on to win two more titles.

His rivalry with British driver James Hunt, the 1976 world champion, was the focus of the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush. Spanish-born actor Daniel Brühl played Lauda, and Hunt was portrayed by Avengers star star Chris Hemsworth. The film received two Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture for a drama and Best Supporting Actor for Brühl.

Tributes poured in on Tuesday for the racing legend. Formula One wrote from its official Twitter account for Lauda to rest in peace. "Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalised in our history. The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend. The thoughts of everyone at F1 are with his friends and family."

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(Photo: Twitter / @F1)

Three-time world champion Jackie Stewart told BBC Radio Four's Today show that "during [Lauda's 1976 accident] he died twice and was resuscitated. Recovering from that accident, he came to Monza [for the Italian Grand Prix], which I was doing commentary for. He shouldn't have been there but wanted to get back to racing.

"I will never forget him putting his helmet on and he was suffering so much pain. When he came out from driving at the end I was there and the blood was running down out of his helmet.

"It's very sad news. I've known Niki for a long time and he was just entering grand prix racing when I was retiring. We had a season together. He always had great integrity and was one the smoothest, best drivers I've ever seen."

Born Feb. 22, 1949, Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula One circuit after he retired as a driver in 1985. He went on to become a successful businessman and entrepreneur, most recently as a non-executive chairman for the Formula One Mercedes team, and was reportedly instrumental in bringing in driver Lewis Hamilton, who has won five world champions.

In August, the racing legend underwent a lung transplant. He had previously had two kidney transplants, the second in 2005 by then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger, a former flight attendant for his airline who he married in 2008.

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In January 2019, Lauda spent 10 days in the hospital while suffering from the flu.

Lauda is survived by his wife, their twins born in 2009, and three sons from previous relationships.