Austrian F1 champion Niki Lauda dies aged 70

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Niki Lauda during the 2016 British Grand Prix (David Davies/PA)

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.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff led the tributes to the team’s chairman saying his death “leaves a void in Formula One”.

He 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 One.

“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.”

FIA president Jean Todt sent his condolences in a Twitter post, which read: “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.”

Tributes continued to pour 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.”

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 was also mourned by F1, who tweeted: “Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalised in our history.

“The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend.”

The McLaren Formula One team said: “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.”

Mercedes tweeted a photograph of Lauda smiling with a love heart emoji and the words “Niki, 1949 – 2019”.

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.

Niki Lauda's career statistics
Niki Lauda’s career statistics (PA Graphics)

Lauda 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.

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.

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

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.

Nico Rosberg, who won the F1 world title in 2016 with Mercedes,  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.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner (christianhornerofficial) posted on Instagram: “Rest in peace to an #F1 legend that I was lucky enough to call a friend.

“A very sad day for the entire motorsport community.

“All at @redbullracing share their thoughts with Niki’s family and friends at this time. Godspeed Niki.”

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen tweeted: “Shocked by the loss of Niki Lauda. He was a true legend in our sport and someone I had great respect for. May he rest in peace #RIPNiki.”

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.

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