The Formula 1 Gladiator – Thank you Niki!
The Austrian had been battling health issues since mid-last year, including a lung transplant in August 2018 that required a two-month stay in hospital. He was then hospitalized again for a short period at the beginning of 2019 after contracting a flu infection. There have been reports from Austrian press in the recent days that he had been receiving kidney dialysis in Switzerland.
Sadly, it has now been confirmed that he has succumbed to his ill health, passing away on Monday May 20th, 2019 surrounded by family. “With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” his family said in a statement issued to Austrian media. “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.”
Lauda was a giant of the Formula 1 paddock for well over four decades. He debuted in 1971, won his first race in 1974 after joining Ferrari, and then claimed a maiden title in 1975. The following season he was lucky to survive a fiery crash at the Nürburgring, which left him badly burned. Remarkably he only missed two races, making one of the most remarkable comebacks in sporting history, and only missed out on the championship by a single point to McLaren’s James Hunt.
The second title for Ferrari came in 1977, before Lauda moved to Brabham for the 1978 season. His stint there lasted less than two seasons, Lauda retiring from Formula 1 midway through practice for the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix. He then focused on his budding air charter business in Austria until 1982, when he made his Formula 1 comeback with McLaren. That relationship yielded a third World Championship two seasons later, when he beat teammate Alain Prost by just half a point. Following his second retirement in 1985 there was a consulting manager role at Ferrari in the 1990s, which was followed by the team principal job at Jaguar, which he accepted in 2001, but only lasted until 2002.
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 last year. “First of all, on behalf of the team and all at Mercedes, I wish to send our deepest condolences to Birgit, Niki’s children, his family and close friends,” said Wolff in a statement sent by Mercedes. “Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport – he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit. “His passing leaves a void in Formula 1. We haven’t just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candor to modern Formula 1. He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense. “Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light. As a teammate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest – and utterly loyal. “It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team’s success. Whenever he walked the floor in Brackley and Brixworth, or delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought energy that nobody else could replicate. “Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you. It was our honor to call you our Chairman – and my privilege to call you my friend.” Concluded Wolff.
Rest in peace Niki Lauda. Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalised in our history. The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend. The thoughts of everyone at F1 are with his friends and family.
Today is a sad day for F1. The great Ferrari family learns with deep sadness the news of the death of our friend Niki Lauda, three times world champion, two with the Scuderia (1975-1977). You will remain forever in our hearts and in those of the fans.
All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 Formula 1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away. Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history.
“Dear Niki, you had so much talent, very tough to race against you, but always clean a super champion. Your story inspired my family and me when you came back to race in Monza with so much courage and determination. You are a gladiator.”
“Niki had a degree of bravery that I had never seen the like of before. After his tremendous accident, he was back just six weeks later. I remember seeing Niki put his helmet on, and his wounds were still absolutely obvious. I thought to myself that with all the vibrations you get in a Formula One car at Monza, one of the fastest tracks in the world, that this can’t be right. To be brave enough to put on the helmet was amazing, but then he went out and qualified fifth. When he returned to the garage, he took his helmet off and I could see he was bleeding. Yet, the very next day, he raced. Niki Lauda will be remembered forever.”