Niki Lauda 'irreplaceable', says Mercedes chief Toto Wolff

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says Niki Lauda combined "heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit."

For Toto Wolff, said Niki Lauda's passing will leave a huge void in the sport.   -  Getty Images

Toto Wolff says Mercedes has lost a "guiding light" and "one of the greatest legends" in Formula One after Niki Lauda died at the age of 70.

Three-time F1 champion Lauda's family announced on Tuesday that he had passed away, having undergone a lung transplant last August.

Lauda — whose death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant — had been non-executive chairman of Mercedes since 2012 and was instrumental in persuading Lewis Hamilton to move to them for the 2013 campaign from McLaren.

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The English pilot has since gone on to win four drivers championships and the team has won five successive constructors titles.

"First of all, on behalf of the team and all at Mercedes, I wish to send our deepest condolences to Birgit, Niki's children, his family and close friends." Wolff said in a statement released by Mercedes.

Wolff said his compatriot's passing left a huge void in the sport.

"Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport - he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit.

"His passing leaves a void in Formula One. 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 Formula One. He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense.

"Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light. As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest - and utterly loyal.

"It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team's success. Whenever he walked the floor in Brackley and Brixworth, or delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought an energy that nobody else could replicate.

"Niki, you are quite simple irreplaceable, there will never be another like you. It was our honour to call you our chairman - and my privilege to call you my friend."

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Niki Lauda, appointed the non-executive chairman of Mercedes In September 2012, had a successful partnership with Toto Wolff.   -  Getty Images

 

During his driving career, Lauda suffered horrific injuries on August 1, 1976 when, having already won five races that season, his vehicle burst into flames on the Nuerburgring in Germany.

Despite being given the last rites in hospital he made a miraculous recovery to race again just six weeks later still bandaged and in intense pain.

He went on to win two of his drivers' titles post that narrow brush with death in 1977 (Ferrari) and 1984 (McLaren).

Lauda underwent an emergency lung transplant in a Vienna hospital in August 2 last year after contracting an infection in his lungs, which were scarred and weakened by the effects of inhaling high temperature smoke during the 1976 accident.

Years before he had also received kidney transplants. When one failed, a second kidney was donated by his then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger, a former flight attendant, who he married in 2008.

Rosberg 'strongly inspired' by Lauda

Nico Rosberg expressed his gratitude for the influence Niki Lauda had on his career after the three-time Formula One champion died at the age of 70.

Lauda's family on Tuesday announced that the Austrian great had passed away nine months after he underwent a lung transplant.

Rosberg quit after winning his maiden F1 title in 2016, having benefited from Mercedes non-executive chairman Lauda's expertise and advice.

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Nico Rosberg Niki Lauda take a selfie in the garage ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in 2016.   -  Getty Images

 

The German driver paid tribute to the inspirational Lauda on social media.

"Dear Niki. Thank you for everything that you did for me." he posted on Twitter and Instagram.

"I learned so much from you. Your passion, your fighting spirit, to never give up, your belief that you always meet twice in life, and even your patience with us youngsters.

"Myself and all of your 100 million fans around the world, whom you also so strongly inspired to never give up in the hardest of times, are thinking of you and your family and wish that you rest in peace."

Hill mourns 'remarkable' Lauda

Niki Lauda was a remarkable individual who had a positive impact on all who knew him, said former British Formula One champion Damon Hill.

"Everyone who was in Formula One knew Niki's personality as one of the most potent individuals in the sport," 1996 world champion Hill told Sky Sports

"He was highly intellectual, stoic, someone who didn't have any time for any of the BS in the business at all. He was eminently quotable all the time.

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"It's very sad to hear that we've lost Niki but so many people have been affected positively by having known him. There are so many stories about Niki Lauda. He was involved in the drivers' strike in South Africa.

"He was one of the few men who could sit down with Bernie Ecclestone and Enzo Ferrari and they knew that he meant business. He was a remarkable individual in every way."

Hill said Lauda's career was marked by the respect other drivers in the paddock had for him.

"I certainly was one person who looked at Niki and thought I'll never would be half the man he was.

"His career was stylised and characterised by his intelligent approach. When he came up against Alain Prost he knew he couldn't beat him on speed, so he beat him on tactics.

"He wasn't Machiavellian at all. He was thoughtful, he was intelligent, he was pragmatic and he just got the job done."

(With inputs from AFP)