ANDREAS Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda, the three-times Formula One world champion and Mercedes F1 team chairman, has died at the age of 70.
In a statement, Lauda’s family said the Austrian had ” fell asleep peacefully with his closest family at the University Hospital in Zurich” on Monday evening.
The late racing driver leaves behind a legacy as one of Formula One’s most successful drivers. Over his 13 years in the sport, Lauda was crowned world champion three times (securing his last title, in 1984, by just half a point over McLaren team mate Alain Prost), and won 25 of the 171 grand prix races he entered.
Arguably the defining moment of his career, though, was his life-threatening crash at the Nürburgring during the 1976 German Grand Prix. It was a moment recreated in 2013 film Rush, which chronicled that season’s titanic battle between Lauda and James Hunt for the world title.
Despite suffering third-degree burns and serious lung damage in the accident, Lauda would be back on the grid just 42 days later at that year’s Italian Grand Prix, where he would remarkably qualify in fifth place and finish the race in fourth
Speaking to the BBC a few years ago, Lauda said of his crash: “I was not surprised to have an accident, it sounds a little funny [to say] today.
“I took the decision to come back and then it was hard work basically to fight fear to get back in Monza – I couldn’t drive on the first day, then I had to reorganise everything – how to approach the races. And then I continued to race, so I really did a good comeback under these conditions.”
Sir Jackie Stewart, former F1 driver
Speaking to the BBC’s Nick Robinson, a sombre Sir Jackie Stewart, another three times F1 world champion, described in grisly detail Lauda’s heroic comeback at the Italian Grand Prix.
“He shouldn’t have been there but he wanted to go back to racing. He died twice and was resuscitated, during the accident. But when he came back six weeks later, I’ll never forget him putting his helmet on, because he was suffering such pain.
“They’re tight helmets – they don’t give a lot of space in there – and when he came out from driving that day, I was there, and the blood was running down out of his helmet. Racing cars have no suspension, really, and the race tracks are sometimes a little bumpy, and the movement of his helmet had taken all the planting they had done in the hospital to get his skin back into detail.
“What a piece of work that was, and he went on to race the next day. I don’t think there has ever been a hero as he was in that time.”
Stewart added: “Niki had a tremendous amount to do for motorsport – he was good on safety, he was an excellent driver, one of the best drivers there has been in the world. So it is an enormous loss to Formula One and motorsports in general, and of course to his country, and most of all to his family, which I send my deepest sympathy to. But what a brave man – I’m very privileged to have called him my friend.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes Formula One boss
In a team statement, Toto Wolff said: “Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport – he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit.
“His passing leaves a void in Formula 1. We haven’t just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candour to modern Formula One. He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense.
“Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light. As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest – and utterly loyal.
“It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team’s success.
“Whenever he walked the floor in Brackley and Brixworth [Mercedes’ respective chassis and engine bases], or delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought an energy that nobody else could replicate.
“Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you. It was our honour to call you our chairman – and my privilege to call you my friend.”
John Watson, former F1 race winner
John Watson, 73, (pictured with Lauda after winning the 1983 Long Beach Grand Prix) was one of the first on the scene after Lauda’s infamous accident at the Nürburgring. Speaking to the Today programme’s Gary Richardson this morning, he said:
“Part of the personality of Niki was his determination and focus and he decided that, ‘I’m not going to die, I’m going to fight and I’m going to fight, and he won that battle. And what was even more remarkable was 40 days after the accident, he returned to the grand prix paddock and competed in the Italian Grand Prix – an act of physical and mental courage that I’ve never seen before in a sportsman, and something that I will always remember.”
Ross Brawn, Formula One’s Managing Director of Motorsports
Richardson also spoke to Ross Brawn, 64, a former F1 engineer and team principal. Brawn said of Lauda’s death:
“It wasn’t unexpected because Niki had been suffering ill health for some time now, but it’s still a shock when somebody who is such a colossus as Niki leaves us. The impact he had on grand prix racing in so many ways, not just as a driver but also in his career afterwards will long be remembered.”
Asked about Lauda’s famously frank demeanour, Brawn described him as, “Blunt, which was disarming until I got used to it, but once I did get used to it, I appreciated his honesty. We actually had a good relationship in the end.”
Of Lauda’s legacy behind the wheel, Brawn said : “I think for me, he was never seen as one of the naturals; he was seen as somebody who had amazing application and intelligence. He obviously had a fair degree of ability because he couldn’t have done what he did without it, but he just had the intelligence and application to achieve three world championships.
“I think even himself had admitted that he wasn’t the ultimate echelon of skill like a Senna or guys like that, but he got the job done, and he was admired enormously for that.
“And, of course, his bravery from his accident was something which is just legendary – it’s unimaginable what he went through and how he dealt with it.”
Martin Brundle, Sky Sports F1 commentator and former F1 driver
Writing on Twitter, Martin Brundle called Lauda “A great human being, determined, relentless, talented, passionate, forthright, honest, humble, and great company”.
Oh no. The man himself is no longer with us 😢. A great human being, determined, relentless, talented, passionate, forthright, honest, humble, and great company. Living on borrowed time since his awful crash in 1976, he certainly made the absolute most of that gift. RIP Niki https://t.co/WRSsBL3TUV
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) May 21, 2019
Further tributes on Twitter
Scuderia Ferrari , Lauda’s former team
Everyone at Ferrari is deeply saddened at the news of the death of our dear friend Niki Lauda. He won two of his three world championships with us and will always be in our hearts and in those of all Ferrari fans. Our sincere condolences go to all his family and friends.#CiaoNiki pic.twitter.com/mbzZBNZiRZ
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) May 21, 2019
Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)
Niki Lauda was a hero of motor sport, who inspired me in my youth. He is a milestone in the history of @F1 . All my thoughts go out to his family, friends and @MercedesAMGF1 team.#NikiLauda #F1 pic.twitter.com/aAoIVwexZU
— Jean Todt (@JeanTodt) May 21, 2019
Andy Palmer, Chief Executive of Aston Martin
— Dr. Andy Palmer (@AndyatAston) May 21, 2019
Formula One’s official Twitter account
Rest in peace Niki Lauda.
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. pic.twitter.com/olmnjDaefo
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 21, 2019
Maurice Hamilton, F1 journalist
The term ‘Hero’ is much abused but, for me, Niki Lauda was a true hero, not just because of what he did in a racing car before and after the accident in 1976, but the way he took on Boeing after the LaudaAir crash. His searing honesty and humour made him a delight to know. RIP
— Maurice Hamilton (@MauriceHamilton) May 21, 2019
Paul-Henri Cahier, F1 photographer
When you get a second life, literally, you can laugh all the way to the end of that second life. Niki Lauda’ second life lasted nearly 43 years…
He was both a hero and a legend, a very rare occurence.
Goodbye Niki, you will be sadly missed. pic.twitter.com/DWByDmUmiM
— Paul-Henri Cahier (@F1Photo) May 21, 2019
Tiff Needell, TV presenter and former F1 driver
First Hunt and now Lauda. Two of the greatest drivers who didn’t care about how they looked or what they said. Always a straight answer to a straight question without any of the modern bullshit. Two icons together forever and never to be forgotten.
— Tiff Needell (@tiff_tv) May 21, 2019
Ted Kravitz, Sky Sports F1 pundit
Niki Lauda was one of a kind. To live through so much, to achieve so much and to do it with a twinkle in the eye, glinting under that red cap. He was different class – Thoughts with his family, friends and colleagues. Remember him with a smile.
— Ted Kravitz (@tedkravitz) May 21, 2019
Matt Bishop, WSeries Comms Director and former F1 journalist
Of all Niki Lauda’s superb races, perhaps his greatest was one in which he finished only 4th: Monza ’76. Here’s the last paragraph of the Autocourse report, Pete Lyons’ wonderful phrase-making a fitting tribute to one of the greatest #F1 drivers of all time. #RIPNikiLauda pic.twitter.com/fZkBo7r872
— Matt Bishop (@TheBishF1) May 21, 2019
James Allen, F1 commentator and journalist
Very sorry to learn of Niki Lauda’s death. The ultimate symbol of bravery in our sport and a wonderful man to talk to. Helped make Ferrari and Mercedes winners. Unsentimental – he swapped his #F1 trophies for car washes – but funny. Photo: @MSI_Images pic.twitter.com/C0KiVmzleM
— James Allen (@Jamesallenonf1) May 21, 2019
Johnny Herbert, F1 pundit and former racer
A real loss to Sport and a big hole in our hearts. Courageous, chatty, and extremely funny. I am going to miss you being around the @F1 paddock but the legend of Niki Lauda will live on, because you were a very very special man. Thanks for all the memories #3timesWC @SkySportsF1 pic.twitter.com/aUIRML0lNv
— Johnny Herbert (@johnnyherbertf1) May 21, 2019
Natalie Pinkham, F1 TV reporter
Devastated to wake to the news that Niki Lauda has died. The seemingly indestructible icon of our sport. He who epitomised everything that is great about F1. #RIPNikiLauda you wonderful man 💔
— Natalie Pinkham (@NataliePinkham) May 21, 2019
McLaren F1, Lauda’s former team
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 pic.twitter.com/Ndd9ZEfm6B
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 21, 2019
Daniel Brühl, who portrayed Lauda in the 2013 film Rush
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The bravest man, I’ve ever met, not only because he was an F1 World Champion in the crazy 70’s and had the most incredible comeback in sport’s history, but also because of how he treated people. Always honest, straight forward, blunt. Niki told you the truth in your face, no matter how uncomfortable. He was totally unpretentious and incredibely funny. I learned a lot from him and deeply admired him. I know how much he enjoyed flying. Race the sky in peace immortal Champ, we’ll miss you. Mach’s gut Niki.