The Austrian F1 star was world champion for Ferrari in 1975 before sustaining life-threatening burns in a crash at the Nurburgring circuit in the following year’s German Grand Prix.

Lauda’s condition was such that he was given the last rites in his hospital bed, and yet through sheer determination he was overcame the physical and mental challenges to return to the cockpit just six weeks later to resume his world championship title defence against McLaren rival James Hunt.

In a dramatic F1 season that has since been the subject of the Ron Howard movie, Rush,  Hunt clinched the title in the final round by a single point.

Lauda made an abrupt mid-season retirement from the sport in 1979 before mounting a comeback with the McLaren team in 1982. He went on to win his third world championship crown in 1985 before hanging up his helmet once more, this time for good.

More recently Lauda returned to the sport in the role of non-executive chairman at the Mercedes F1 team. However, Lauda has not been seen at the race track since last year. What was initially reported as a bout of the flu deteriorated to the point where a lung transplant operation was required.

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” a statement from his family said.

“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.”