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Former Formula One driver and three-time world champion Niki Lauda passed away at the age of 70, his family has said. The Austrian race car driver died overnight on Monday, eight months after receiving a lung transplant.
"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday. 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," the family said in a statement to the Austrian press agency.
Niki Lauda, who won Formula One titles in 1975, 1977 and 1984, was admired, respected and liked within F1 industry. He had a remarkable career, won two titles for Ferrari, and one for McLaren, and came back from an horrific accident that left him severely burned and injured in 1976.
Niki competed in 171 races and won 25. He also pursued business and ran his own airline. He went on to have senior management roles in Formula One, the most recent one as a non-executive chairman at the hugely successful Mercedes. Niki Lauda helped bring Lewis Hamilton to the team.
Toto Wolff, Team Principal at Mercedes, paid an emotional tribute, stating:
"First of all, on behalf of the team and all at Mercedes, I wish to send our deepest condolences to Birgit, Niki's children, his family and close friends. 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 One. 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 teammate 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, 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."
Chase Carey, chairman and chief executive of the Formula One group, issued a statement: "It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Niki Lauda. Formula 1 has lost not only one of the truly great exponents of the sport but also one of its heroes. His love of racing and the courage he demonstrated were simply extraordinary and he inspired so many fans. His passing is a great loss for the entire Formula 1 family and motorsport as a whole. All our thoughts go out to his family."
His former team McLaren said: "Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history."
Former world champion, Jenson Button said "a legend has left us", and prominent motorsports journalist Nick De Groot said, "Lauda's status within the sport was not just for what he achieved on the race track, but for what he overcame to get there."
Scuderia Ferrari tweeted that the Ferrari family had learned "with deep sadness" of Lauda's death. They added: "You will remain forever in our hearts and in those of the fans. Ciao Niki."
2016 Formula One world champion for Mercedes, Nico Rosberg tweeted: "Dear Niki. Thank you for everything that you did for me. I learned so much from you. Your passion, your fighting spirit, to never give up, you belief that you always meet twice in life, and even your patience with us youngsters. Myself and all of your 100 million fans around the world whom you also so strongly inspired to never give up in the hardest of times are thinking of you and your family and wish that you Rest in Peace."
Lauda was a brilliant driver with fantastic judgment. He was born in 1949 and pursued a career in racing even though his family did not support his decision. He had a determination he would demonstrate when he took out a personal bank loans to ensure he had a shot at Formula One.
He made his debut in 1971 and seasons with March and BRM followed. Enzo Ferrari was so impressed that he offered him a driver spot with the Scuderia in 1974. Ferrari were rewarded with a podium on his first race and a win three races later in Spain. He claimed his first title for the team the following year, Ferrari's first in over a decade.
A year later, in 1976, during a heated battle for the title, Niki Lauda had a major crash at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. He was trapped for under a minute in his burning car, fellow racers Arturo Merzario, Lunger, Guy Edwards, and Harald Ertl arrived at the scene, and Merzario pulled from the wreckage. Niki suffered severe burns to his head and ears, and damage to his lungs and blood from the fumes.
Lauda returned for the Italian Grand Prix six weeks later, still bandaged, and in pain after extensive surgery. Lauda could still have taken the title at the final round in Japan but opted to retire from the race convinced the torrential rain made it unsafe. James Hunt, with whom he enjoyed both respect and friendship, took the championship.
Lauda went on to take the title a second time a year later but retired in 1979 after two more seasons with Brabham. He made a comeback for McLaren however in 1982 and went on to win the championship for them in 1984 after a hugely competitive fight with team-mate Alain Prost.
The Austrian took the title at the last round by just half a point. He retired from F1 for a second and final time in 1985 and returned to pursuing his business interests.
Thoughts About Losing Formula One Legend Niki Lauda
From the entire Drivespark team — "Niki, thank you for peaking our interests in Formula One. Although most of us grew up watching Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, we discussed at length, the races you participated in, watched many interviews and were shocked to see you crash in 1976. Thank you for being an inspiration, and for teaching us determination. We will always hold you close to our heart. Goodbye Niki, Rest in Peace."