One of the greatest racing drivers in history has died. Three-time Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda passed away in Austria at the age of 70. Lauda’s family confirmed the news to Austrian news outlets and had been in ill health for the past year, receiving a lung transplant and suffering from the flu. Last week, it was reported Lauda was receiving kidney dialysis.

Lauda entered Formula 1 in 1971 and immediately built a reputation for being incredibly talented and highly analytical in what his car needed. Lauda quickly moved up the ranks and eventually joined Scuderia Ferrari, where he scored his first win in 1974 and enjoyed much of his success.

His rivalry with James Hunt and their 1976 title chase is what Lauda will be most remembered for. Chronicled in the Ron Howard film Rush, the calculated Lauda and the charismatic Hunt squared off to see who would be World Champion. Lauda enjoyed five wins and pulled ahead in points at first but almost lost his life in a fiery crash at the incredibly dangerous Nurburgring Nordschleife.

Due to the length of the Nordschleife (over 14 miles), rescue workers were nowhere near the crash. Lauda would have died if not for the quick thinking of fellow racers Harald Ertl, Brett Lunger, Guy Edwards, and Arturo Merzario helping him out of the burning car.

Lauda explained his recovery and treatment after the crash, including the process of getting his lungs vacuumed and being given his last rites.

Suffering burns which consisting of permanent scarring on his head and losing most of his right ear, along with inhaling toxic fumes that got into his lungs, Lauda only missed two races and returned six weeks later to finish fourth at Monza.

Citing dangerous conditions due to the rain and being unable to blink because of damaged tear ducts from the Nurburgring crash, Lauda voluntarily retired his Ferrari and Hunt won the 1976 championship at the Japanese Grand Prix by a single point.

Lauda would win championships in 1975 and ’77 before retiring for the first time after the 1979 season. Lauda would come out of retirement in 1982 to drive for McLaren, winning the 1984 World Championship before retiring for good in 1985.

Post retirement, Lauda ran his own commercial airline and stayed within Formula 1 in a variety of roles. His final F1 role was being a “non-executive chairman” and stakeholder of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, who have won both driver and constructor titles in each of the past five years. Lauda remains one of the biggest legends in motorsports.

[Motorsport/Photo: Getty Images]

About Phillip Bupp

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