Niki Lauda, three-time Formula 1 world champion and aviation entrepreneur, dies at the age of 70

The three-time world F1 champion passed away at the age of 70 surrounded by family. Lauda had received a lung transplant just eight months before his death on Monday. 

Legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda has died, his family confirmed in a statement. The three-time world champion passed away at the age of 70 surrounded by family. Lauda had received a lung transplant just eight months before his death on Monday. 

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” his family said in a statement to an Austrian news outlet. "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."

Niki Lauda sits behind the wheel of a snowmobile during the KitzCharityTrophy on January 20, 2018 in Kitzbuehel, Austria. (Getty Images)

Lauda won the F1 drivers' championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren.  In 1976, he was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix but made an astonishingly fast return to racing just six weeks later. Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula One circuit after retiring as a driver in 1985 and in fact, he was the one who is credited with bringing Lewis Hamilton to the team when he served as Mercedes' non-executive chairman in 2012. The driver also has also had two kidney transplants, one in 1997 and another in 2005, that he received from his brother and his wife. "Due to kidney problems, he had to be transferred from the rehabilitation centre to a private clinic for dialysis,” Lauda’s brother Florian confirmed to a news outlet. 

Born on February 22, 1949, into a wealthy Vienna industrial family, Nikolaus Andreas Lauda was expected to follow his father's footsteps into the paper-manufacturing industry, but instead concentrated his business talents and determination on his dreams of becoming a racing driver.

Lauda financed his early career with the help of a string of loans, working his way through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2. He made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix and picked up his first points in 1973 with a fifth-place finish for BRM in Belgium. Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, winning a Grand Prix for the first time that year in Spain and his first drivers' title with five victories the following season.

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3 million a year. He finished fifth his first year back and 10th in 1983, but came back to win five races and edge out teammate Alain Prost for his third title in 1984. He retired for good the following year, saying he needed more time to devote to his airline business.

Initially a charter airline, Lauda Air expanded in the 1980s to offer flights to Asia and Australia. He also 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 after it fell victim to its parent's financial woes. He partnered with budget carrier Ryanair on Niki's successor, LaudaMotion.

He was also the inspiration for the Chris Hemsworth starrer film 'Rush.' The 2013 flick was written by Peter Morgan, directed by Ron Howard while Daniel Brühl starred as Lauda. It chronicles his rivalry with James Hunt and follows their careers through the German Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix from the 1970s. Although the film is said to have exaggerated their conflict, in real life the two were actually good friends. 'Rush' earned $26.9 million in the domestic box office, $71.3 million in the international box office, with a worldwide gross of $98.2 million against a budget of $38 million.

Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit, and their twin children Max and Mia. He had two adult sons, Lukas and Mathias, from his first marriage.

-with AP inputs

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