Formula One legend and former champion Niki Lauda dies at 70

Lauda back in treatment for kidney problems

Austrian Lauda won the Formula One drivers' world championship three times, in 1975 and 1977 for Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren.

Lauda, who underwent a double lung transplant in August a year ago, had also had kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005.

Following this period, it has emerged that the 70-year-old has succumbed to his recent poor health, passing away peacefully on Monday with his family present. 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 auto.

"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.

His family added in their statement: "His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable". Away from the public gaze, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather.

"The main damage, I think to myself, was lung damage from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the vehicle for about 50 seconds", he recalled almost a decade later.

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3 million a year.

Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and, when that stopped functioning well, a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

"But I did not want to die".

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Lauda was a giant of the Formula 1 paddock for well over four decades. "I wanted to go on living", Lauda said.

Despite being given the last rites in hospital he made an nearly miraculous recovery to race again just six weeks later still bandaged and in intense pain.

"Coming back quickly was part of my strategy of not sitting at home and thinking about why this had happened to me", he said. Lauda ultimately fell short to Hunt that year, but the season was later recreated in the feature film Rush. In May 1991, a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.

"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 sold his shares in his airline to Austrian Airlines in 1999, but remained connected to Formula 1 through consultancy and executive roles with Ferrari and Jaguar.

In 2003, he founded another airline, Niki, which he sold to Air Berlin in 2011.

In 2012 he became the non-executive chairman at the Mercedes F1 team, and was a key figure at the multiple title-winning squad right up to his illness of previous year.

Lauda remains the only driver to ever win world championships with both Ferrari and McLaren.


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