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Niki Lauda, 3-Time Formula 1 Champion and Focus of 2013’s Rush , Dies at 70

Jason Duaine Hahn
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Niki Lauda, 3-Time Formula 1 Champion and Focus of 2013’s Rush , Dies at 70

Niki Lauda, 3-Time Formula 1 Champion, Dies at 70

Niki Lauda, a three-time Formula 1 champion who survived a horrific crash that caused severe burns to his face, died on Monday at the age of 70.

The former Ferrari racer — who would go on to start several airline companies after retiring from the sport — underwent a lung transplant in 2018 after being diagnosed with “severe lung disease,” and was hospitalized with influenza this year, according to CNN. Lauda previously had two kidney transplants, one from his brother in 1997 and one from his girlfriend in 2005, Fox News reported.

Lauda’s cause of death was not publicly announced by the family.

“His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and will stay in our memory,” the Lauda family said in a statement, according to the outlet. “His tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain a role model and standard for all of us. Away from the public, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him.”

Lauda lost much of his right ear and hair when he was involved in a fiery crash German Grand Prix in 1976. But the ever-determined Austrian racer would return to the track just six weeks later, still wearing bandages around his injured face, to finish fourth at the 1976 Italian Grand Prix.

He later admitted he was terrified of returning so quickly to racing, but felt it was the best way to help his mental healing.

Niki Lauda

“I said then and later that I had conquered my fear quickly and cleanly,” Lauda wrote in his autobiography, To Hell And Back, the BBC noted. “That was a lie. But it would have been foolish to play into the hands of my rivals by confirming my weakness. At Monza, I was rigid with fear.”

Lauda would then win his second F1 championship the next year, and his third in 1984.

His heated rivalry with British McLaren racer James Hunt was the subject of Ron Howard‘s 2013 film, Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda.

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Hunt was seen as a handsome, Hollywood movie star-esque racer, putting him directly in contrast to Lauda’s matter of fact personality. But Lauda and Hunt were good friends, despite turning merciless toward each other when they were behind the wheel.

Bernard Cahier/Getty

“Rest in peace Niki Lauda. Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalized in our history,” the Formula 1 Twitter account said after his death. “The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend. The thoughts of everyone at F1 are with his friends and family.”

Added Ferrari, his former sponsor: “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.”