AUSTRIA’S 1970s F1 star Niki Lauda has died, aged 70.

His family said he died overnight on Monday, eight months after receiving a lung transplant.

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” the family said.

“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur, 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, won world F1 titles in 1975, 1977 and 1984, and was admired, respected and liked within F1 after a remarkable career during which he won two titles for Ferrari and one for McLaren and came back from an horrific accident that left him severely burned and injured in 1976.

He competed in 171 races and won 25.

He also actively pursued business interests including his own airline and went on to have senior roles in F1 management, most recently as non-executive chairman at the hugely successful Mercedes since 2012, where he helped bring Lewis Hamilton to the team.

Lauda was born in 1949 and pursued a career in racing against the wishes of his family, taking took out a personal bank loan to ensure he had a shot at F1.

He made his debut in 1971 and seasons with March and BRM followed where he impressed enough for Enzo Ferrari to offer him a drive with the Scuderia in 1974.

Ferrari were rewarded with a podium on his first race and a win three meetings later in Spain.

The next year he took his first title for the team, their first for over a decade.

A year later he had a huge crash at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.

Trapped in his burning car, he was pulled from the wreckage, but suffered severe burns and damage to his lungs.

Despite doubts he would survive, Lauda’s determination to race again was extraordinary and just six weeks later he returned for the Italian Grand Prix, still bandaged and in pain after extensive surgery.

He went on to take the title a second time a year later but after two further seasons with Brabham retired in 1979, when he started his first airline business.

He made a comeback for McLaren in 1982 and went on to win the championship for them in 1984 after a hugely competitive fight with team-mate Alain Prost.

Lauda retired from F1 for a second and final time in 1985 and returned to pursuing business interests.

He took a consulting managerial role at Ferrari in 1993 and was team principal of Jaguar between 2001 and 2002.

He has been a fixture in the paddock since joining Mercedes however, always outspoken, entertaining and informed.

I interviewed Lauda when he competed in the 1978 SA Grand Prix.
We didn’t speak for long and I recall being uncomfortable seeing him up close with his horrific injuries.
His melted ears were especially difficult t look at.
Lauda was driving for Parmalat those days in a Brabham BT46 Alfa and qualified on pole, ahead of Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Patrick Tambay and Jody Scheckter.
He was jumped at the start of the 78-lapper at Kyalami, dropping to third by the first corner, but the upgraded Brabham’s engine blew on lap 52, making Lauda one of the many retirements.
The race was won by Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson in a Lotus 78, just ahead of Patrick Depailler’s Tyrell, with Brit John Watson, who was Lauda’s teammate, third in a Brabham BT46.
Australia’s Alan Jones ran fourth in the Williams FW06.

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Buys

Bill Buys, probably Australia’s longest-serving motoring writer, has been at his craft for more than five decades. Athough motoring has always been in his DNA, he was also night crime reporter, foreign page editor and later chief reporter of the famed Rand Daily Mail. He’s twice been shot at, attacked by a rhinoceros and had several chilling experiences in aircraft. His experience includes stints in traffic law enforcement, motor racing and rallying and writing for a variety of local and international publications. He has covered countless events, ranging from world motor shows and Formula 1 Grands Prix to Targa tarmac and round-the-houses meetings. A motoring tragic, he has owned more than 90 cars. Somewhat of a nostalgic, he has a special interest in classic cars. He is the father of Targa star Robert Buys, who often adds his expertise to Bill’s reviews.