It's a sad day in Formula 1 today as the sport has lost one of its many legends. Niki Lauda has passed away today at the age of 70 following a period of ill health. Prior to his death, the Austrian was the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team.
His family has since released a statement:
"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday. 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's path to racing was a difficult one, with his family disapproving of his choice to go into motorsports. He had to take a £ 30,000 loan from the bank just to continue his racing career. As he was committed into making a name for himself in racing, Lauda was embroiled in a family feud, and abandoned communications for his family.
With the loan, he bought a seat into March Engineering as a Formula 2 driver, which would eventually become his ticket to Formula 1. He joined Ferrari in 1974, and getting his first of three titles in 1975.
But perhaps Lauda will be most remembered by his grit and determination to get back on the wheel after his near-fatal crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. He suffered severe burns to his body, and the toxic fumes had poisoned his blood and damaged his lungs. We can thank Arturo Merzario for saving Lauda's life, as he pulled the Ferrari driver out of the flaming wreckage, suffering burns in the process as well.
Despite slipping into a coma and given last rites by a priest, he bounced back, eventually finishing second behind James Hunt in the championship. Lauda would later win the championship the following year in 1977. His final title came in 1984 with McLaren and hung the helmet in 1985.
Later on, Lauda moved into managerial roles in Formula 1, being one of the handlers at Ferrari in the 90's, Jaguar in the early 2000's, and eventually his final role as non-executive chairman at Mercedes-AMG Formula 1. He also ventured into commercial aviation and his airline, simply named Lauda, is still in operation. On occasion, the Formula 1 legend would even fly the aircraft itself.
And from this day on, Lauda will be racing in the sky with his on-track rival and off-track friend, James Hunt.
Rest in Peace, Niki Lauda.