3-time Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda dies

Niki Lauda won three Formula 1 titles. Two of them came after he was severely burned in a crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, file)
Niki Lauda won three Formula 1 titles. Two of them came after he was severely burned in a crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, file)

The family of Niki Lauda announced Monday evening that the three-time Formula 1 champion had died. He was 70.

The Austrian is most famous to casual racing fans for the movie “Rush,” which featured the rivalry Lauda had with James Hunt. The Ron Howard movie also chronicled Lauda’s crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, where Lauda suffered third-degree burns to his head and face in the crash and also had burns in his lungs because of the significant fire that enveloped his car. He was pulled from the car as the fire raged by his fellow drivers, a maneuver that might have saved his life.

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Lauda had a lung transplant in 2018 and also had multiple kidney transplants. From the Guardian:

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” the family said in a statement, according to the Austrian press agency. The statement paid tribute to “his unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur” and said “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.”

Two titles came after 1976 crash

Lauda is widely considered one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time. He won 25 of his 171 career starts and missed just two races after that 1976 crash before returning to the series. Lauda had won five of the first nine races of the season before the crash.

He won his first career Formula 1 title in 1975 when he won five races. His second title came in 1977 when he won three races. His third and final title came in 1984 at the age of 35 when he won five races and had nine podiums before retiring for good after the 1985 season.

His third championship came after he returned to Formula 1 following a brief first retirement to pursue an airline business following a 1979 season that was full of mechanical failures while driving a Brabham.

Lauda returned to Formula 1 in 1982 with McLaren and drove for the team when he won his last title.

Lauda’s success after that crash was remarkable and it’s not hyperbole to call it the greatest comeback story in Formula 1 history. Thirteen of his 25 victories came after 1976 and that success is even more notable given Lauda’s relative lack of pole positions later in his career. He had just three poles from 1977-1985.

Most recently, Lauda was part of Mercedes’ Formula 1 team and had served as the team’s non-executive chairman. He played a role in getting Lewis Hamilton to switch to the Mercedes factory team from McLaren after the 2012 season, a move that’s paid off for both Hamilton and Mercedes.

After Hamilton won just one race in his first season with the team, he’s won 54 races in the past five-plus seasons. Mercedes is currently the most dominant team in the F1 paddock as Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas have won every race this season and are currently 1-2 in the points standings.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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