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Thousands turn out to say goodbye to F1 legend Niki Lauda in Vienna ceremony

Three-time world champion recovered from a life-threatening crash in 1976.

Lauda's helmet sits on top of his coffin in Vienna's St Stephen's Cathedral.
Lauda's helmet sits on top of his coffin in Vienna's St Stephen's Cathedral.
Image: Ronald Zak

THOUSANDS THRONGED VIENNA’S landmark cathedral on Wednesday to mourn Austrian Formula One legend Niki Lauda, who died last week at the age of 70.

“The whole world says today: Bye, Niki!” tabloid Osterreich said on its front page, paying tribute to the three-time F1 world champion, who came back from a horrific crash and founded several airlines.

Lauda’s widow Birgit along with two of his sons put his helmet on top of the brown casket, which stood next to flower wreaths and a portrait of the Austrian sporting his signature cap hiding scars from the 1976 crash.

Mourners then slowly filed past to bid a final farewell, taking photos and laying flowers, with the queue stretching well out of the cathedral into nearby streets.

Imago 20190529 3,000 standing places for Wednesday's ceremony were open to the general public. Source: Imago/PA Images

A public mass will take place later Wednesday. The funeral itself is private and details for it have been kept under wraps. 

Some 500 VIP guests are expected to attend the mass, including Lewis Hamilton and other Formula One heavyweights such as German driver Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.

There will also be hundreds more seats and 3,000 standing places open to the general public.

It is the first time a sports star has received such an honour at the city’s St Stephen’s Cathedral, a distinction previously accorded only to prominent personalities like the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Koenig, and the former crown prince of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, Otto von Habsburg.

Imago 20190529 Lauda will be remembered as one of Austria's great athletes. Source: Imago/PA Images

Lauda won the drivers’ world championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren.

Even after retiring as a race driver, Lauda remained a fixture on the circuit. Most recently, as non-executive chairman at Mercedes F1 since 2012, he was instrumental in bringing in Hamilton, sparking a run of success for the team.

The Briton won the Monaco Grand Prix Sunday, which he described as the “hardest race I think I’ve ever had”.

Lauda died at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, nine months after he underwent a lung transplant.

He had struggled with health issues since miraculously surviving the 1976 crash that saw his car engulfed in flames at the Nurburgring in Germany.

Imago 20190529 Birgit and Lukas Lauda place the helmet on Niki's coffin. Source: Imago/PA Images

Besides racing, Lauda’s second passion was aviation. He founded and then sold several airlines with his latest, Laudamotion, going to Ryanair in 2018.

It is not clear where Lauda will be laid to rest. The family reportedly has turned down an offer by the city of Vienna to receive a “grave of honour” in the city’s vast Central Cemetery.

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