Three-times Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda, regarded as one of the finest and bravest race drivers of all time and who later became a successful airline entrepreneur, has died at 70 after battling declining health.
Austrian Lauda, who was hospitalised in January for about 10 days while suffering from influenza and had a lung transplant last August, died on Monday, his family said in a statement.
“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable,” the statement, published by Austrian media, said.
“His tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain 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 won two world championships in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and a third in 1984 with McLaren.
He had a near-fatal crash in 1976 when racing at the Nürburgring but despite suffering serious burns, he was soon back in his Ferrari with a modified helmet and went on to claim his second F1 title.
His rivalry with British driver James Hunt, the 1976 champion for McLaren, was intense and became the subject of the acclaimed 2013 film “Rush”.
After two less successful years at rival outfit Brabham and then a two-year hiatus, Lauda returned to F1 for another four seasons at McLaren and won the 1984 title by a half-point over team mate Alain Prost.
While taking his first break after Brabham, Lauda set up a charter airline and returned to his aviation business full-time after bowing out of racing.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, he grew ‘Lauda Air’ into an international carrier with long-haul flights out of Austria across the globe before it was merged into Austrian Airlines in 2012.
Lauda also returned to F1 in management roles, first with Ferrari in the 1990s and later with Mercedes, where he was appointed non-executive chairman in 2012.
He is credited for helping bring five-times F1 champion Lewis Hamilton to the team from McLaren.
Lauda’s death rocked the F1 community days before the Monaco Grand Prix, the jewel in the circuit’s racing calendar.
“All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 Formula 1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away,” the team said. “Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history.”
British former F1 champion Jenson Button, who won a title with Brawn GP in 2009, tweeted: “A legend has left us. Rest in peace Niki.”
- Born in Vienna on Feb. 22, 1949
- Got into motor racing against his family’s wishes.
- Started his career as a Formula Two driver in 1971 with March Engineering.
Formula 1 Career
- Raced with March (1971-1972) and the British Racing Motors team (1973) where he impressed Ferrari despite having an unreliable car.
- Signed by Ferrari in 1974 and finished fourth in the World Drivers’ Championship in his debut season with the Italian team where he won his first race at the Spanish Grand Prix.
- Won two championships with Ferrari over the next three years (1975 and 1977).
- Had a near-fatal crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix after a failed race boycott over safety measures at the track. He suffered severe burns to his face and damaged his lungs while he was trapped in his car that had burst into flames.
- Made a remarkable comeback after missing two races but lost out on the 1976 title by one point — to arch-rival James Hunt of McLaren — after retiring in the final race in Japan due to dangerous conditions.
- Raced with Brabham, owned by former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, from 1978 to 1979 before retiring after two unsuccessful seasons.
- Made his Formula One comeback in 1982 with McLaren.
- Won his third title and his first with McLaren in 1984, beating team mate Alain Prost by 0.5 points — even though Prost won more races.
- The 1985 season was his last as a Formula One racing driver, retiring with 25 Grand Prix wins.
- Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Management Roles and Business Interests
- Founded Austrian airline Lauda Air in 1979.
- Had a consulting role with Ferrari in 1993.
- Jaguar’s team principal between 2001 and 2002.
- Founded Niki, an Austrian low-cost airline, in 2003. He held a commercial pilot’s licence and occasionally took command of their Airbus jets.
- Named Mercedes’ non-executive chairman prior to the 2013 season and was involved in negotiations to sign Lewis Hamilton, who would go on to win four championships with the team.
- Took over another Austrian chartered airline in 2016 and renamed it Laudamotion.
- Board member of Mercedes AMG Powertrains.
- Special adviser to the Board of Daimler AG.