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Niki Lauda (1949–2019), three-time Formula One champion

Mike Powell/Allsport

His remarkable comeback after a serious crash was immortalized in the movie "Rush"

Niki Lauda was a three-time Formula One champion known for his remarkable comeback after a serious accident at the 1976 German Grand Prix. Austrian native Lauda won his first championship in 1975, racing for the Ferrari team. He was expected to prevail in the following season as well, until the fateful crash at the Nurburgring track. Lauda's car burst into flames after hitting an embankment. Lauda, trapped in the car, almost died and emerged severely burned, losing most of his right ear and suffering extensive scarring. Amazingly, he missed just two races before returning to drive in blood-soaked bandages, and he came within a single point of winning the 1976 championship. By 1977, he was back on top, and he won his third championship in 1984, by then well known for the baseball cap he wore to partially conceal the scarring from his crash. Lauda also owned the airlines Lauda Air and Niki, and he wrote a number of books. He was a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and a motorsports commentator.

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Died: May 20, 2019 (Who else died on May 20?)

Details of death: Died in Zurich at the age of 70.


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The movie version: Lauda's fateful year of 1976 was dramatized in the 2013 movie "Rush," starring Daniel Bruhl as Lauda and focusing on his rivalry with British driver James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth. The film was popular and well-reviewed, bringing the dramatic story of Lauda's accident and subsequent comeback to a new generation. But it wasn't entirely accurate: "Rush" portrayed Lauda and Hunt as bitter rivals, when in fact they were good friends in life. In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Lauda called the film "80% correct, with a bit of Hollywood."

Notable quote: “A lot of people criticize Formula One as an unnecessary risk. But what would life be like if we only did what is necessary?”

What people said about him: “Rest in peace Niki Lauda. Forever carried in our hearts, forever immortalized in our history. The motorsport community today mourns the devastating loss of a true legend. The thoughts of everyone at F1 are with his friends and family.” —Formula One

“RIP the great Niki Lauda. …We first met while making the movie Rush. The F1 world knows of his grit & intensely competitive spirit, but that matched with his keen intelligence & wisdom made him a distinctively remarkable man. A force.” —Ron Howard, director of "Rush"

“My heart is heavy today, mourning the loss of a colleague and friend. Niki Lauda… a true-blue wonderful man.” —Racing driver Mario Andretti

“Shocked by the loss of Niki Lauda. He was a true legend in our sport and someone I had great respect for. May he rest in peace.” —F1 driver Max Verstappen

"I'm struggling to believe you are gone. I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together. God rest your soul. Thank you for being a bright light in my life. I'll always be here for your family should they ever need me. Love you man" —F1 driver Lewis Hamilton

Full obituary: Washington Post

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