Formula One has been rocked by the death of legendary driver Niki Lauda, age 70.
His family confirmed the news on Tuesday, saying he had fallen asleep peacefully surrounded by his loved ones after a period of ill-health.
“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 family statement said.
“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.”
The Austrian underwent a double lung transplant last August and was hospitalised with the flu in January.
He also had kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005.
Lauda was a three-time world champion, winning the F1 title for Ferrari in 1975 and 1977, and for McLaren in 1984.
He’ll be most remembered for his incredible comeback just weeks after a devastating crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976 that nearly claimed his life.
He suffered severe burns and spent time in a coma, losing most of his right ear, as well as the hair on the right side of his face.
His lungs also filled with toxic smoke, leading to his health problems later in life, after he crashed into a fence at the Nuerburgring track at a speed of 200km/h.
"The impact was so hard that the helmet was ripped off my head," he said of the crash.
At the hospital, a priest gave him the last rites, in light of his serious burns and damaged lung.
"But I did not want to die. I wanted to go on living," Lauda said four decades after the crash.
Lauda did not only go on living, he went on fighting.
Miraculously, he returned to the sport just two races later, finishing fourth at the Italian Grand Prix and winning the championship the next year.
"Coming back quickly was part of my strategy of not sitting at home and thinking about why this had happened to me," he said.
His comeback was immortalised in the movie ‘Rush’, which documented his battle with British driver James Hunt.
By the time the Austrian ended his racing career in 1985, he had competed in 171 Formula One races, winning 25 of them and standing on the podium 54 times.
Before retiring from the track, the racer launched Lauda Air in 1979.
In May 1991, one of his aircraft crashed after takeoff from Bangkok. All 223 passengers and crew members died.
"I was deeply shocked," Lauda said of the accident, admitting that he felt guilty until an investigation showed a technical problem caused the tragedy.
Lauda, known as a tough businessman, sold the airline in the 1990s.
In 2003, he founded another airline, Niki, which he sold to Air Berlin in 2011. He bought it back in January 2018 to run it under the Laudamotion brand, only to sell it quickly to Irish budget carrier Ryanair.
In later years, Lauda became an adviser for the Ferrari race team, before becoming non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team in 2012.
Since then, Mercedes have dominated the hybrid era with three drivers' world titles with Lewis Hamilton and one from the now retired Nico Rosberg alongside four constructors' championships.
Lauda was also known to motorsport fans as a television commentator over 20 years.
Tributes pour in
All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 Formula 1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away. Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history. #RIPNiki pic.twitter.com/Ndd9ZEfm6B
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) May 21, 2019
Heartbroken is an understatement. You were an iron man in every walk of life, an inspiration never ending and quite simply one of the most important individuals to ever set foot on earth. Now go find Mr Hunt up there and go racing! RIP, Niki Lauda ❤️ pic.twitter.com/wnfSgxpBbN
— Lens_life_98 (@98_lens) May 21, 2019
Niki Lauda is a legend not just for what he achieved on the race track, but for what he overcame to get there. His story is an incredible one, he was determined beyond what would be considered normal, & he refused to back down to any challenge. That's what made him a legend. #RIP
— Nick DeGroot (@ndegroot89) May 21, 2019
Rest In Peace Niki Lauda. What a legend, fighter, and inspiration in what dogged determination can achieve.
I’ve always had an incredible respect for individuals who have such an obvious singular focus. He embodied that and became an example for so many people & drivers.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) May 21, 2019
Niki Lauda, may you rest in peace.
I grew up hearing about your talent and who you were. You were and still are an inspiration for all racing drivers for both the speed and talent you had to the perseverance of defying death when few could. Admiration.
Forever remember. pic.twitter.com/nd8bjJzRBh
— A Normal Chap (@ANormalChap) May 21, 2019
Niki Lauda is one of the most underrated champions imo. To go through what he did, almost win the title that same season and then to win 2 titles after has to be one of the greatest feats in sport. An absolute legend and it's sad that we won't see his smiling face in the paddock pic.twitter.com/turIEzbiBk
— Kezimodo183 (@Kezimodo97) May 21, 2019
Sad news tonight reading reports of Niki Lauda’s passing.
A fighter, father, legend, husband and survivor, an inspiration to anyone who’s faced life’s most difficult extremes.
Thoughts go out to Niki’s family and to all who knew him at the circuit.#RIPNiki 1949-2019 pic.twitter.com/utT9u58DfL
— F1 in America (@F1US) May 21, 2019
— Emily Benammar (@EmilyBenammar) May 21, 2019
Niki Lauda has sadly passed away following his recent illness. The world will forever be a different place without him in it and we sure will miss seeing him in the paddock and on our F1 screens. What a great man he was and an inspiration to all. RIP Niki 🙏 #F1 #Legend pic.twitter.com/4Qf7WK0pnK
— F1 Images (@F1_Images) May 21, 2019