The former Formula One driver and three-time world champion Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70, according to a statement from his family. Lauda was a dedicated sportsman with a huge loyalty to F1 racing, but it was his heroic, almost Herculean response to a racing accident that he is best remembered for. Lauda already had a history-making career and was establishing himself as a racing icon, when one event changed his life forever.
During a horrific accident, Lauda suffered third-degree burns to his head and face and inhaled toxic gases that would damage his lungs. The injuries were so severe that he was given the last rites while in hospital. But, just over 40 days later, he was racing again. Despite all odds, and still suffering from grave injuries, he finished fourth in the Italian Grand Prix. During the race, his wounds — still open — had completely saturated his fireproof balaclava in blood. The balaclava was stuck to his bandages and had to be ripped off of his face. Still, he remained dedicated.
“I said then and later that I had conquered my fear quickly and cleanly,” Lauda wrote in To Hell And Back. “That was a lie. But it would have been foolish to play into the hands of my rivals by confirming my weakness. At Monza, I was rigid with fear.” He was careful to not let that fear show and, in pushing through it, he made one of the most courageous and staggering comebacks in the history of sport.
Universally liked and respected, Niki Lauda had a determination, an integrity, and a remarkable fortitude that echoed across the sport. A man who was so dedicated that he took out a personal bank loan to ensure his shot at an F1 race, he fought against family disapproval and personal setbacks to claim a place in racing — and in history. He would go on to work as consulting manager at Ferrari and as a team principal of Jaguar. His passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to F1 continued throughout his life and, as a lynchpin of the sport, he will never be replaced.
One of the greatest rivalries of all-time and one of the greatest friendships.
Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 21, 2019
A statement from his family said that “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.” Missed, but certainly not forgotten.