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F1 mourns death of racing legend Niki Lauda

Outpouring of praise for racing legend, 70, who survived horrific 1976 crash to win second of his 3 F1 titles

The death of legendary Formula One driver Niki Lauda, 70, yesterday morning (Singapore time) has triggered an outpouring of praise for a man whose track victories and comeback from a horrific crash enthralled race fans worldwide.

Lauda died at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, surrounded by his closest family members, a spokesman told AFP.

His death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant. An Austrian news report said Lauda - who also had kidney transplants - was hospitalised for a dialysis earlier this month in Switzerland.

Dr Walter Klepetko, who performed the lung transplant at Vienna's general hospital last year, said there was no specific cause of death.

"It was a long process, and the patient reached its end. Niki Lauda fought. He was a great man. But it has been clear for some time that we cannot bring him back to the 'race track'," he was quoted by the Austrian news agency APA as saying.

The family said in a statement that Lauda died peacefully, highlighting his "unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur... his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage.

"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."

"Everyone at Ferrari is deeply saddened at the news of the death of our dear friend Niki Lauda,"Ferrari said on its Twitter account.

"Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history. #RIPNiki," his former team McLaren tweeted.

Singapore GP deputy chairman Colin Syn, in a statement, said: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda and extend our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.

"A highly accomplished athlete and entrepreneur, Niki is an inspiration to many both on and off the racetrack, pushing everyone on his team to always strive for the best.

"Niki is proof that passion is the fuel for success, and his dedication, courage and resilience will live on."

Lauda was born Andreas Nikolaus on Feb 22, 1949, in Vienna into an upper middle-class family, who did not share his passion for cars.

FIRST RACE

In 1968, without telling his parents, Lauda won his first race with a Mini Racer he had bought with his grandmother's help.

Lauda won two world championships in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and a third in 1984 with McLaren.

He had a near-fatal crash in 1976 when racing at the Nuerburgring.

But, despite suffering horrific burns, he was soon back in his Ferrari with a modified helmet and went on to claim his second world title.

His rivalry with British driver James Hunt, the 1976 champion for McLaren, was intense and became the subject of the acclaimed 2013 film "Rush".

After two less successful years at rival outfit Brabham and then a two-year hiatus, Lauda returned to F1 for another four seasons at McLaren and won the 1984 title by a half-point over teammate Alain Prost.

While taking his first break after Brabham, Lauda set up a charter airline and returned to his aviation business full-time after bowing out of racing.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, he grew Lauda Air into an international carrier before it was merged into Austrian Airlines in 2012.

Lauda also returned to F1 in management roles, first with Ferrari in the 1990s and later with Mercedes, where he was appointed non-executive chairman in 2012.

He is credited for helping bring five-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton to the team from McLaren.

Lauda's death rocked the F1 community days before the Monaco Grand Prix, a highlight in the racing circuit's calendar.

"His passing leaves a void in F1," Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in a statement yesterday.

"We haven't just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candour to modern F1.

"He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense. Niki, you are quite simply irreplaceable, there will never be another like you." - AFP, REUTERS

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