Race car driver Niki Lauda passed away this week, at the age of seventy. The Austrian had been battling health issues since mid-last year, including a lung transplant in August that required a two-month stay in the hospital. The Austrian-born Lauda was a three-time F1 World Drivers’ Champion, winning in 1975, 1977 and 1984. He went on to become an entrepreneur in the field of aviation. Lauda is survived by his wife, Birgit Wetzinger, sons Mathias, Christoph, Lukas, and Max, along with daughter Mia.
Niki Lauda was the only race car driver in Formula 1 history to win championships driving both McLaren’s and Ferraris, widely considered the sport’s most successful cars. As such, he is widely considered the greatest F1 driver of all time. Later, his aviation entrepreneurship resulted in three airlines, Lauda Air, Niki, and Lauda. Of these, Lauda Air was the most successful, with a fleet of seven planes serving 16 different countries. It later merged with Austrian Air.
Lauda’s F1 years
Lauda was a giant in F1 circles for over four decades. He debuted in 1971, won his first race in 1974 after joining Ferrari, and claimed a title in 1975.
In 1976 Lauda survived a fiery accident at the Nurburgring. Amazingly, he missed just two races, marking one of the sports’ most remarkable comeback stories. The story of Lauda’s crash and his subsequent rivalry with fellow driver James Hunt (pictured together above) became the 2013 movie, “Rush.”
Lauda’s second championship while driving for Ferrari came in 1977, just before Lauda moved on to Brabham Racing in 1978. His stint with Brabham as to last only one full season. Lauda retired from F1 midway through his practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix.
For a time, Lauda focused on his air charter business. Then, in 1982 he made his F1 comeback, driving for McLaren. That driver/constructor relationship yielded Niki Lauda’s third World Championship in 1984 when he beat teammate Alain Prost by 0.5 points.
Lauda’s post-driving years
Following his eventual retirement from driving in 1985, he held a consulting manager’s role at Ferrari and an executive position with Jaguar. Seven years ago he became the non-executive chairman at the Mercedes Formula 1 team. He was a key figure in winning several F1 championships and only stepped down when his fatal illness took hold of his failing body.
The family put out the following statement upon his death this week:
“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday. His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain. A role model and a benchmark for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed.”
Gildshire Magazines offers our condolences to those who knew, loved, and admired race car driver Niki Lauda. On this, the biggest weekend of auto racing of the year, tributes will take place in both Indianapolis and Monaco.