Austrian F1 champion Niki Lauda dies aged 70

Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70.

The former racing driver “passed away peacefully”, his family said on Monday in a statement reported by the Austria Press Agency.

Tributes poured in for the Austrian, who was called a “legend” by British racing driver Jenson Button.

He tweeted: “A legend has left us. Rest in peace Niki.”

Lauda was also mourned by the McLaren Formula One team, who wrote: “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.”

His family added in their statement: “His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable.

“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 narrowly escaped death in 1976 when his Ferrari crashed at the Nurburgring in Germany.

He made a miraculous recovery despite horrific burns and finished second in the championship to James Hunt.

The rivalry between the pair was later made into a film starring Daniel Bruhl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt in 2013.

He went on to win two of his three titles as well as becoming a prominent figure in the aviation industry.

In 1979 he left the sport to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air.

Niki Lauda celebrating victory in the British Grand Prix in 1984 (PA Archive/PA Images)
Niki Lauda celebrating victory in the British Grand Prix in 1984 (PA Archive/PA Images)

He briefly returned to racing following an offer from McLaren, winning the F1 drivers’ championship for a third time in 1984, before retiring for good the following year.

Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003.

In later years, he served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team and formed a close bond with driver Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013.

Over the past few decades, Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

In August last year, he underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a “serious lung illness”.

He was released for rehabilitation nearly four months later but was back in hospital in January with influenza.

The doctor that performed the transplant, Walter Klepetko, confirmed his death early on Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported.

Lauda is survived by his second wife Birgit, and his children, Max, Mia, Mathias, Lukas and Christoph.

- Press Association

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