Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda passes away aged 70

Three-time Formula 1 champion and motorsport icon Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70, his family have announced in a short statement.

The Austrian racer was re-admitted to hospital in 2019 after having a lung transplant late in 2018, and was susceptible to infections due to a lower immune system as a result of the major surgery.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning his family released a statement confirming the news that he passed away peacefully.

"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday," said Lauda's family in a statement to Austrian media.

"His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain.

"A role model and a benchmark for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed."

Lauda made his Formula 1 debut with March at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix before joining Ferrari to race alongside Clay Regazzoni in 1974, taking his maiden World Drivers' Championship one year later by beating Emerson Fittipaldi to the '75 crown.

Lauda is best known for the events surrounding the 1976 German Grand Prix, in which he suffered severe life-changing burns and was given the last rites by a priest, but made one of Formula 1's greatest comebacks by returning to action just six weeks later.

Lauda's rivalry with James Hunt culminated in a tense title fight at the Japanese Grand Prix, from which Lauda withdrew due to the atrocious weather conditions at Fuji Speedway.

Lauda nonetheless took the title again in 1977 and became a three-time champion in 1984 when driving for McLaren, beating team-mate Alain Prost by half a point, having briefly walked away from the sport.

Retiring at the end of 1985 for the second time in his career, Lauda joined former team Ferrari in a management position before later joining Jaguar as the British marque's Team Principal in 2001, albeit with little sucess.

Lauda also became involved in the aviation industry and occupied positions as TV pundit but it was with Mercedes that he enjoyed the most success in the later years of his life.

In 2012, Lauda joined reigning champions Mercedes as non-executive chairman, playing a key role in the team's present success, with the Silver Arrows taking five back-to-back Drivers' and Constructors' Championships in Formula 1's V6 Turbo Hybrid era.