1949 – 2019
Niki Lauda, the Austrian racecar driver who won three world championships in Formula One, the sport’s highest level of international competition, and was regarded as one of the greatest speedway drivers of all time, died on Monday in Zurich. He was 70.
His family confirmed the death, at University Hospital, in a statement to the Austria Press Agency. No cause was reported.
Lauda was injured many times in race crashes and once nearly killed. He had kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005, and last August, while struggling with severe lung disease, he underwent what was described as a successful lung transplant at a hospital in Vienna.
The scion of an industrial family that opposed his daredevil driving career, Lauda (pronounced LAO-da) was a road warrior who dazzled motoring experts and crowds that lined the twisting, turning Grand Prix courses of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas for grueling all-weather races. For a driver, it took guts, focus and precision moves among the shifting packs roaring at high speeds.a
MCLAREN MP4/2 1984 NO 8 NIKI LAUDA LEGENDS OF F1 COLLECTION
“Formula One is simply about controlling these cars and testing your limits,” Lauda told The Telegraph of London in 2015. “This is why people race — to feel the speed, the car and the control. If in my time you pushed too far, you would have killed yourself. You had to balance on that thin line to stay alive.”
Unlike the Indianapolis 500, America’s Memorial Day weekend classic in which drivers take 200 laps around a 2.5-mile rectangle with rounded corners, Grand Prix races are held worldwide on public roads with hills and turns and on odd-shaped specially built circuits with right- and left-hand curves of varying sharpnesses.
In his 17-year career (1969-85) in the open cockpit of Porsches, Ferraris, McLarens and other high-tech torpedoes on wheels, mostly in Formula One competition, Lauda won 25 Grand Prix races. Points were awarded to the top six finishers in a race (today it is the top 10), and by amassing the highest point total in 16 authorized races, Lauda won the Formula One world driving championships in 1975, 1977 and 1984.
Since the crowns were first awarded, in 1950, only five drivers have surpassed Lauda’s three titles. The record, seven, was set by Michael Schumacher, of Germany, between 1994 and 2004.