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Formula One legend Niki Lauda dead, aged 70

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Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has died at age 70, a family spokeswoman said.

Austrian Formula One legend Niki Lauda has died at age 70, a family spokeswoman said in a statement.

The three-time world champion received a lung transplant last year and was taken to hospital with the flu in January.

Lauda died peacefully in his sleep on Monday surrounded by family.

Former Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda has died.
Former Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda has died.
AP

"His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable," the family's statement said.

“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.”

Lauda's head was badly burned in a fiery crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976 and his lungs were damaged by toxic smoke. 

The then world champion steps from his Ferrari 312-T2 in April, 1976.
The then world champion steps from his Ferrari 312-T2 in April, 1976.
AP

Despite the horror injuries, he launched a successful comeback and his rivalry with British driver James Hunt, became the subject of the 2013 movie Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth Daniel Brühl.

But the injuries left him struggling with health problems for the rest of his life, including kidney and lung issues. 

His most recent surgery took place almost exactly 42 years after Lauda crashed into a fence at the German Nuerburgring track at a speed of 200km/h kilometres an hour during a race.

"The impact was so hard that the helmet was ripped off my head," he said of the crash.

His Ferrari went up in flames, and it took 55 seconds to pull him out of the car.

At the hospital, a priest gave him the last rites, in light of his serious burns and damaged lung.

 

 

"But I did not want to die. I wanted to go on living," Lauda said four decades after the crash.

Lauda did not only go on living, he went on fighting.

Just 42 days after the crash, Lauda was again behind the wheel and took fourth place in the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, ending the championship season as runner-up to British rival James Hunt.

"Coming back quickly was part of my strategy of not sitting at home and thinking about why this had happened to me," he said.

Apart from lingering health problems, the crash also left Lauda with his signature red sports cap.

Lewis Hamilton and Niki Lauda last year.
Lewis Hamilton and Niki Lauda last year.
AP

His physiotherapist initially gave it to him to keep his head bandages in place, but he kept wearing it so that people would look him in the eye rather than at his scarred scalp.

Following his first Formula One world title in 1975, Lauda won two more times in 1977 and 1984.

By the time the Austrian ended his racing career in 1985, he had competed in 171 Formula One races, winning 25 of them and standing on the podium 54 times.

Before retiring from the track, the racer launched Lauda Air in 1979.

In May 1991, one of his aircraft crashed after takeoff from Bangkok. All 223 passengers and crew members died.

"I was deeply shocked," Lauda said of the accident, admitting that he felt guilty until an investigation showed a technical problem caused the tragedy.

Lauda, known as a tough businessman, sold the airline in the 1990s.

Lauda's head was badly burned in a fiery crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976. The injuries led to him wearing his trademark r
Lauda's head was badly burned in a fiery crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976. The injuries led to him wearing his trademark red cap.
X00316

In 2003, he founded another airline, Niki, which he sold to Air Berlin in 2011. He bought it back in January 2018 to run it under the Laudamotion brand, only to sell it quickly to Irish budget carrier Ryanair.

The son of an industrialist family proved his shrewdness when he started his racing career.

He lied to his grandmother to get money for his first racing car, saying he needed it to buy real estate, according to a book he co-authored on his business outlook.

Podium Ditch Grand Prix 1975. James Hunt celebrates with Niki Lauda (left) and Clay Regazzoni (right).
Podium Ditch Grand Prix 1975. James Hunt celebrates with Niki Lauda (left) and Clay Regazzoni (right).
Wikipedia

He also faked his high school diploma in order to get parental approval to begin car racing.

In later years, Lauda became an adviser for the Ferrari race team, before becoming non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team in 2012.

Since then, Mercedes have dominated the hybrid era with three drivers' world titles with Lewis Hamilton and one from the now retired Nico Rosberg alongside four constructors' championships.

Lauda was also known to motorsport fans as a television commentator over 20 years.

"Red cap, clear and direct words," Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said in summarising the man. 

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