The world has lost a legend. Formula 1 racecar driver and more recently Mercedes-Benz speed guru Niki Lauda passed away on Monday "peacefully" and "surrounded by his closest family members," according to a statement issued to the Austrian Press Agency by the Lauda family.
Based on his time in the saddle, Lauda is regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time. From 1969 to 1985, he won 25 Grand Prix races and three world titles (in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren).
Two of those titles came after a fiery crash at the Nürburgring, a 14-mile, 76-curve course, during the 1976 German Grand Prix. The accident left the Austrian severely scarred for life. In addition to causing severe burns on his face and upper body, Lauda lungs were also damaged from breathing in flames.
Though the cause of death was not released, it is believed that continuing lung issues from injuries sustained 43-years-ago were the culprit.
Astonishingly, six weeks after the almost fatal crash, Lauda returned to competition in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and nearly caught the new points leader, British bad boy James Hunt. However, bad typhoon-like weather in the last race of the season in Japan kept Lauda from racing. Safety was more important. His life was worth more than a race.
A year later, Lauda recaptured the world championship, beating Hunt by a single point in the standings.
The crash and Lauda's storied rivalry with Hunt was immortalized in the Ron Howard-directed movie, Rush, starring Daniel Brühl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt.
Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula 1 after retiring as a driver in 1985, and in recent years served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team. In 2012, Niki Lauda was appointed Non-Executive Chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd. In this role, Niki won Formula One World Championships with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport five times in a row between 2014 and 2018.
"He combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit," said Toto Wolff, Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport. "His passing leaves a void in Formula One.
I interviewed Lauda in 2016. His candor about Formula 1 drivers today versus those from his day was refreshing. "Formula 1's current batch of Formula drivers were once famed for their soldier-like bravery and addiction to speed and danger, he says. Today, many make headlines for their moaning. Drivers ask their pits for help with their racing lines and car settings. Races would be more interesting if the drivers didn't have any contact with their crew at all. That way, they'd be left to fend for themselves like in the good old days. It appears they would rather see intervention from Formula 1's race director than attempt to out-race their rivals."