Niki Lauda, three-times Formula 1 world champion and an icon of the sport, died at the age of 70 last week as tributes rang out at historic Monaco.
An unquestionable icon of the sport and idolised for his bravery after his 1976 crash, Austrian Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70. Toto Wolff, team principal at current champions Mercedes, described how he felt like a ‘zombie’ after learning of Lauda’s death. “Every half an hour”, Wolff said, “I keep looking at pictures of him with tears in my eyes because he is not here anymore”.
Such is the authority and respect Lauda had on F1 and the people whose careers he helped shape.
More than F1 champion
Lauda, born in Vienna in 1949, was not only an exceptional driver, being one of only a handful of drivers to have enjoyed multiple F1 titles. He was also an entrepreneur, founding three airlines in Lauda Air, Niki and Lauda. He captained these planes well into his 60s.
A sidekick to Toto Wolff, he was non-executive chairman of Mercedes for five consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ titles. He is also known for honing the talent of current champion, Lewis Hamilton.
Tragedy at the Nurburgring
Despite his heroics in winning titles, it is often the event in 1976 that most remember of Lauda. Having won the 1975 title, Lauda was leading in the following season. At the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, however, his Ferrari 312T2 burst into flames after a crash.
Lauda suffered third-degree burns to his head and face which would stay with him for life. The toxic gases he inhaled also severely damaged his lungs whilst he was given the last rites by a priest in the hospital. It was a career cut devastatingly short.
A resilient hero
Yet, despite what was said of the incident at the time, Lauda would return. With unhealed wounds, Lauda returned to F1 just 40 days after at Monza in Italy, finishing fourth. Playing down his condition and mental state, Lauda would later remark of his fear at driving post-accident. It was clear what had survived was even more resilient and determined to win.
Lauda went on to win the F1 title the following year in 1977 and again in 1984. He remains the only driver in F1 history to have been the champion for both Ferrari and McLaren.
His death comes as somewhat of a surprise for F1 fans after the death of Ferrari company president, Sergio Marchionne, who passed away last July.
Tributes poured in as the news broke and teams, drivers and fans alike were able to show their appreciation for the legend at Monaco this weekend as Lewis Hamilton stormed to victory.