Family and fans say farewell to F1 champion Niki Lauda

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F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton walks beside Niki Lauda’s coffin (Ronald Zak/AP)

Family, friends and fans gathered at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna for a last farewell to Formula One champion Niki Lauda.

The wooden coffin of the three-time champion was decorated with his red racing helmet and surrounded by six white candles and rose wreaths with two large portraits of Lauda behind it.

The Austrian died on May 20 at the age of 70, less than a year after undergoing a lung transplant.

Lauda, who won two of his Formula One titles after a horrific crash in which he suffered serious burns, later became a prominent figure in the aviation industry and in recent years served as a non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team.

The helmet of the former Formula One driver Niki Lauda on top of his coffin during a funeral service in Vienna
Lauda became a prominent figure in the aviation industry (Ronald Zak/AP)

Several Formula One stars attended, including current world champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and their team boss Toto Wolff; four-time champion Alain Prost and fellow winners of the title Sir Jackie Stewart, Nelson Piquet and Nico Rosberg.

Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen and Arnold Schwarzenegger also paid their respects at the funeral mass.

After winning the Monaco Grand Prix last Sunday, Hamilton paid tribute to Lauda, writing on Twitter: “That was for you, Niki. Your fighting spirit was right there with me every step of the way.

“I know you are looking down and taking your hat off to us. I miss you, we truly miss you and I hope we did you proud today, legend.”

Before the beginning of the service, hundreds of fans walked by the coffin, many of them crossing themselves and taking mobile phone photos.

The coffin of the former Formula One driver Niki Lauda is pictured by a man in Vienna
Lauda died aged 70 on May 20 (Ronald Zak/AP)

“He was an unpretentious, humble, shining star among the racing drivers,” Toni Faber, the cathedral’s priest who was to give the sermon for Lauda, told Austrian news agency APA before the service.

“He had a sense of humour, was true to life, target-oriented and no-nonsense.”

Lauda won the F1 title in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren.

Birgit Lauda, widow of former Formula One driver Niki Lauda, at his funeral service in Vienna
Lauda’s widow Birgit (Ronald Zak/AP)

In 1976, he was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix, but he made an astonishingly fast return to racing only six weeks later.

Lauda remained closely involved with the F1 circuit after retiring as a driver in 1985.