The world of motor racing, and car enthusiasts in general, are mourning a legend, with the news Formula 1 great Niki Lauda has sadly passed away, aged 70.
Born Andreas Nikolaus Lauda in Vienna, Austria on the 22nd of February in 1949, he is widely hailed as one of the greatest motor racing drivers of all time. A giant of the sport, he won three F1 world championships and was the only driver to win for the two leading constructors in motor racing; Ferrari and McLaren.
Known for his analytical and tactical approach to the sport, Lauda won his first world championship driving for Ferrari in 1975. However, arguably his most inspiring moment, also ironically, the most horrific, took place the following year. Lauda was involved in a collision at the notorious old Nürburgring racetrack in Germany, which, before being changed in 1984 to meet higher safety standards, and amended again in 2002, was known as `The Green Hell` for being so dangerous.
Lauda, while competing at the 1976 German Grand Prix, crashed his Ferrari 312T2, which burst into flames. Suffering severe burns, and inhaling toxic fumes, he was close to death. Lauda even received the last rites and yet incredibly, miraculously, he was racing again only forty days later.
In what many consider the greatest comeback in sporting history, six weeks after the crash, he was back behind the wheel for the Italian Grand Prix. Lauda ended up finishing second that season in a closely fought battle with his great rival, the British driver James Hunt.
(The story of their intense rivalry was depicted in the biopic `Rush`, with `Thor `star, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, portraying Hunt and German Spanish actor Daniel Brühl playing Lauda.)
In 1977, a year after the crash, Lauda won his second title for Ferrari, before leaving the team. He later raced for McLaren from 1982 to 1985, winning his third world championship in 1984. The next year, having previously temporarily retired from the sport in 1979, he announced his retirement for good at, appropriately enough, the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix.
Niki Lauda would return to Formula One in a managerial capacity, as a consultant for Ferrari in the early nineties. He became team principal for Jaguar in 2001, although the venture was not successful, and he lost his job the following year. Ten years later, he was made the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and played a role in signing Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes. The former motor racing champion often worked as a pundit, commentating on Grand Prix races for German TV. He also distinguished himself in the aviation industry, running three German airlines, amongst other ventures.
However, it was his accomplishments as a racing car driver for which Niki Lauda will always be remembered. A sporting hero in every sense of the word, who literally faced death but through bravery, determination and force of will found the strength to not only carry on but be victorious. His legacy is a lesson to us all.