Lauda's health had been permanently damaged by his 1976 Nürburgring crash.
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Racing driver Niki Lauda, three-time Formula One champion, has passed away "peacefully" and surrounded by family. Lauda's health had been permanently damaged by his 1976 Nürburgring crash.

Austrian-born Niki Lauda, one of the greatest Formula One (F1) drivers of all time, has died at the age of 70, his lawyer and a family spokesman confirmed early on Tuesday.

"With deep sadness we announce that our beloved Niki passed away peacefully surrounded by family on Monday," a spokeswoman for Lauda's airline Laudamotion said in a statement carried by Austria's public broadcaster ORF and Germany's DPA news agency.

"His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable."

Lauda has struggled with health problems ever since his 1976 crash. The racing driver crashed his Ferrari car at Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife race and remained trapped in the cockpit for 55 seconds, suffering burns and inhaling toxic fumes.

As well as his distinctive facial scarring, Lauda's crash caused a number of long-term health issues, prompting two kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005. Last summer, Lauda developed a lung infection and was then forced to undergo an emergency lung transplant. He was hospitalized again in January this year with the flu.

The legend of Lauda

The Austrian-born Lauda first snatched the F1 drivers' title with Ferrari in 1975. After surviving the Nürburgring crash, he managed to recover and get back into the competition in just 42 days, finishing second behind UK's James Hunt. The Austrian won the championship again for Ferrari in 1977 and retired at the end of the 1979 season. However, he came back to the paddock in 1984, joining McLaren, and in 1985 became the sole driver ever to win an F1 title after having returned from retirement.

A movie starring Daniel Brühl as Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt premiered in cinemas in 2013.

After his definitive retirement in 1985, Lauda made money as an entrepreneur, founding his own airline but later selling most of it to Ryanair. He also worked as a TV commentator and served as the non-executive chairman for the Mercedes' F1 team, of which he was a shareholder.