Three times world champion and Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda has died aged seventy. The Austrian had been struggling with health issues and underwent a double lung transplant in August that required a two-month stay in hospital.
He was then hospitalised again for a short period at the beginning of 2019 after contracting a flu infection. There have been reports from Austrian press in the recent days that he had been receiving kidney dialysis in Switzerland.
Lauda has been one of the key figures in the sport since the 1970s as a driver, team boss and union leader. He made his F1 debut in 1971 before winning his first race in 1974 after joining Ferrari and then claimed a maiden title in 1975.
A life-changing accident at the Nürburgring would define his career and life. He crashed in a fireball, leaving him with burns and many thought that his career and life would be over.
Lauda made one and arguably the most remarkable comebacks in sporting history, and only missed out on the championship by a single point to McLaren’s James Hunt.
His second title for Ferrari came in 1977 before Lauda moved to Brabham for the 1978 season. His stint there lasted less than two seasons, Lauda retiring from F1 midway through practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix.
After his first retirement from the sport, he managed to build a successful airline. He briefly returned to Formula One with McLaren, winning the F1 drivers’ championship for the third time in 1984, before retiring for good the following year.
But his big achievements off the track are varied, in the weeks after 1994 San Marino Grand Prix he worked with the drivers to reform the trade union of drivers, Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.
Lauda after retirement became a businessman, expanding his airline, but he was deeply impacted when a Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.
The first airline was brought by Austrian Airlines following an external audit criticized a lack of internal financial control over business conducted in foreign currency. Austrian Airlines later took full control.
Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003. Germany’s Air Berlin took a minority stake and later full control of that airline, which Lauda bought back in early 2018. He partnered with budget carrier Ryanair on Niki’s successor, LaudaMotion.
He returned to F1 with Mercedes, pulling off one of the biggest coups in recent times convincing Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren to join the German manufacturer.
This has laid the foundations for five drivers and constructors championships, with the team looking on course for a sixth this season. But it hasn’t been easy, Lauda proving moderator in disputes between Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg.
In January, Lauda spent 10 days in hospital while suffering from influenza. He had previously had two kidney transplants, the second kidney donated in 2005 by his then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger.
He had three children.