Formula One world champion Niki Lauda of Austria, who survived a fiery crash in 1976 and went on to win the championship twice more, has died. He was 70.
Born Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda, he was a prominent race car driver in the 1970s and 1980s, who first won the F1 championship driving for Ferrari in 1975. He’s known by many for the serious crash he suffered the next year, in the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring race track, where he suffered third-degree burns to his head and face. At the hospital, Lauda fell into a coma, and also received last rites.
“For three or four days it was touch and go,” Lauda recalled later, according to ESPN.
Still, he managed to race again just six weeks after the accident, taking fourth place in the Italian Grand Prix. As the BBC reports: “By the end of the race, his unhealed wounds had soaked his fireproof balaclava in blood. When he tried to remove the balaclava, he found it was stuck to his bandages, and had to resort to ripping it off in one go.” The BBC calls his quick return to racing “one of the bravest acts in the history of sport.”
Lauda went on to win the F1 championship again in 1977. In 1979 he retired and turned to aviation, creating Lauda air, declaring that he “didn’t want to drive around in circles anymore,” the AP reports. But he was lured back to racing a few years later by a big offer from McLaren. He won the F1 championship for a third time in 1984, before retiring from the sport for good the next year.
“His unique successes as a sportsman and entrepreneur are and remain unforgettable,” his family said in a statement, the AP reports. “His tireless drive, his straightforwardness and his courage remain an example and standard for us all. Away from the public gaze he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him very much.”