The world has lost a legend. Formula 1 racecar driver and more recently Mercedes-Benz speed guru Niki Lauda passed away this week, “peacefully” and “surrounded by his closest family members,” according to a statement issued to the Austrian Press Agency by the Lauda family.
Based on his time in the saddle, Lauda is regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time. From 1969 to 1985, he won 25 Grand Prix races and three world titles (in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren).
Two of those titles came after a fiery crash at the Nürburgring, a 14-mile, 76-curve course, during the 1976 German Grand Prix. The accident left the Austrian severely scarred for life. In addition to causing severe burns on his face and upper body, Lauda lungs were also damaged from breathing in flames.
Astonishingly, six weeks after the almost fatal crash, Lauda returned to competition in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and nearly caught the new points leader, British bad boy James Hunt. However, bad typhoon-like weather in the last race of the season in Japan kept Lauda from racing. Safety was more important. His life was worth more than a race.
A year later, Lauda recaptured the world championship, beating Hunt by a single point in the standings.
The crash and Lauda’s storied rivalry with Hunt was immortalized in the Ron Howard-directed movie, Rush, starring Daniel Brühl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as Hunt.