Grand Prix legend Niki Lauda turns 70

22 February 2019 - 14:02
By AFP Relaxnews
Niki Lauda
Image: Supplied Niki Lauda

After surviving a horrific accident in 1976 – which saw him given his last rites by a priest as he fought for life – then subsequently undergoing several transplants (kidneys and lungs), Niki Lauda, the former Formula One world champion and non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team, turns 70 on February 22, 2019.

The Austrian former F1 driver is probably best known to most people for his near-fatal accident, August 1, 1976, at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring race track and its after-effects, rather than for his impressive career, with one of the most prestigious collections of titles in the sport's history (three-time Formula One world champion and winner of 25 Grand Prix races).

After miraculously escaping from his flaming Ferrari, Niki Lauda suffered serious burns to the face and was intoxicated from inhaling toxic fumes. Despite coming close to death, he returned to the track six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix and fought hard for the title until the final race of the season. In the end, he only missed out on the title by one point to English driver James Hunt. This fight for the title was the subject of a 2013 Ron Howard movie called "Rush," starring Daniel Brühl as the Austrian driver and Chris Hemsworth as his British rival.

After winning the eternal respect of his peers and fans, the headstrong Austrian F1 driver fell out with Ferrari, then with Brabham, before abruptly quitting competition racing before the 1979 season was even over. He then made a memorable comeback with McLaren in the 1980s and, after having won a final title, he retired to focus on his business activities, notably including an airline bearing his name.

Unfortunately, facial damage isn't the only after-effect Niki Lauda continues to suffer from his 1976 crash. In the 2000s, he had to undergo two kidney transplants, once again pulling through after a narrow escape, and without losing his boundless sense of humor. He made a spectacular return to the F1 paddocks in 2012 by successfully taking the reins of the Mercedes team alongside Toto Wolf.

In summer 2018, he was admitted to hospital for an emergency lung transplant. Although barely out of theater, Niki Lauda was already promising he'd soon be back in the paddocks. Following medical advice to rest, the indestructible Niki Lauda isn't expected to return before this summer.