Three-time Formula One champion Niki Lauda, who recovered from a near-fatal accident to become one of motor racing’s greatest drivers, has died aged 70.
The Austrian, who built a new career as an airline entrepreneur after leaving the track, died peacefully on Monday, his family said in a statement sent to CNN.
“His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and will stay in our memory,” the Lauda family said. “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 won F1 titles with Ferrari and McLaren in 1975, 1977 and 1984, with two of the wins coming after the crash that almost cost him his life.
Born to a wealthy family in Vienna, he had been expected to follow his father into the paper manufacturing industry. Instead, he went into motorsport and joined Ferrari in 1974.
At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda collided with a barrier and his car went up in flames. He inhaled toxic fumes and suffered horrific burns that left him close to death and with permanent facial scaring.
Nevertheless, he returned to racing just six weeks later.
The 1976 race – and Lauda’s rivalry with British F1 driver James Hunt – was the subject of the acclaimed 2013 film “Rush” starring Australian actor Chris Hemsworth.
In a 2016 interview with CNN, Lauda warned that introducing too many safety measures would damage Formula One.
“Why are we watching?” Lauda said. “Good racing, a bit of danger – always there. And unbelievable driver performance to keep these cars under control.
“My opinion is, if we continue only to think of making it 110% about the safety issues, we’re going to destroy Formula One.”
Outside of racing, Lauda founded three Austrian airlines: Lauda Air, Fly Niki, and Laudamotion. He also served as a non-executive chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix.
Toto Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas racing team, hailed Lauda as a “guiding light.”
“Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport - he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit,” Wolff said in a statement.
“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.
“Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you.”
The McLaren F1 team said it was deeply saddened by the news of his death.
“Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history,” the team tweeted Tuesday.
CNN’s Sheena Jones contributed to this report.