The Courageous Life of Niki Lauda Ended Monday


Andreas Nikolaus "Niki" Lauda was an Austrian Formula One driver, who to this day, remains the only driver in F1 history to have been crowned World Driving Champion for the sport's two most successful constructors - rivals Ferrari and McLaren. The three-time Formula 1 world champion died at the University Hospital Zurich on Monday after suffering years of organ failures (two kidney and a double lung transplant) related to his horrific racing accident at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany in 1976. Most recently, Lauda had served as non-executive chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix and was instrumental in the signing of Lewis Hamilton to the racing body's most successful Formula 1 team.

Lauda's unique achievements as an athlete and racecar driver were almost pale by comparison to the entrepreneur's drive and determination to be successful in everything he chose to do. Not only was he the man who had cheated death at Nurburgring, the man who had been given his last rites at a German hospital and returned to race a Formula 1 Grand Prix 40 days later with blood seeping from the bandages that covered the burns on his face, this was the founder and chief executive officer of Lauda Air. He was a legend to the sport and a titan of business who lived a life beyond compare. Lauda won F1 titles in 1975, 1977 and 1984 with two of the championships coming after his fiery crash at the German Grand Prix.

The defending world champion suffered horrific burns to his head and severe damage to his lungs at Nurburgring. Lauda lost most of his right ear, his eyebrows and eyelids but the determined Austrian never tried to hide the scarring. Instead, he made wearing a red baseball cap with a business suit stylish. After the horrendous crash in 1976, Lauda returned to the seat of his Ferrari just 40 days later and finished fourth at the Italian Grand Prix. To this day, it is considered one of the bravest acts in sports history. In his book To Hell and Back, Lauda wrote... it would have been foolish to play into the hands of my rivals by confirming my weakness. And, that's the way he lived all 70 years of his life.

Directed by Ron Howard, the 2013 movie Rush is based on the true story of the heated rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Both born to wealthy European families, these fearless competitors could not have been anymore different in real life. Hunt was known as a playboy, someone who would have sex and quick smoke just minutes before a race. Lauda, on the other hand, was a singular personality with a matter of fact attitude and a wicked sense of humor. According to the Associated Press, Niki Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit, and their twin children Max and Mia. He had two adult sons, Lukas and Mathias, from a previous marriage.

 

Photo Courtesy of Cristiano Barni

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