Niki Lauda was “a giant” of Formula One who will leave a lasting legacy, according to his former world championship rival Mario Andretti.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that three-time world champion Lauda had died at the age of 70.
Andretti, who won his sole drivers’ title in 1978, one year after the second of Austrian Lauda’s triumphs, paid an emotional tribute to one of F1’s greats.
“Niki, to me, was a giant of our sport and he continued to contribute with Mercedes,” Andretti told Omnisport.
“Anytime I was at a Formula One race he is one that I would want to go and talk to. The other thing I always appreciate about Niki is that he called it as it is, he had a good feeling for things and in so many ways the man contributed – when he said something, you’d better listen.
“He was a giant and a good friend, I’ll miss him terribly and everyone will. I knew that he was ill after his lung transplant and there was a period we didn’t hear about him, but it’s still an absolute shock when I heard that he’d passed.”
Lauda is perhaps best known for surviving a horrific crash that saw his Ferrari burst into flames during the 1976 season, returning to the track after missing only two races following an incident that left him with permanent scars.
American Andretti added: “He was strong, he was always driving for a top team and the record he has as a driver speaks for itself.
“The way he came back after his incredible accident to me was so admirable. I don’t know anyone that could have done that as quickly as he did and he showed a lot of passion for his driving. He is a man that I can guarantee is admired by everyone.
“Some competitors like himself, you’re thinking he comes back and you have to fight another one but he was so welcomed with open arms after the courage he had demonstrated to come back after those horrible injuries.
“I admired him forever because of that. To come back and win the world championship again, he was one of a kind.
“Niki never dwelled on the negatives, he didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for him [when he returned to F1]. He was there to drive and that is the sort of character he was.
“He didn’t want any pity or understanding, he was a no-nonsense kind of guy and that’s what everybody loved about him – I certainly did.”
Andretti feels Lauda’s legacy stretches beyond his driving ability.
“Legacy is important and he was a real absolute asset in terms of the safety aspect of Formula One,” he said.
“We all came together and tried to push for improvements on that side and especially after his incident he became a hardened supporter of improving the safety of the circuits and cars. That is something that the entire racing community has benefited from over the years.
“He will never be forgotten, only appreciated for so many things and nobody can disagree with that.”