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Rest in peace Niki Lauda

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The tributes that immediately poured in for Lauda this week showed the deep level of respect and admiration for him

Niki Lauda's passing has sadden many across the motorsport world. Photo: Nelson Antoine/AP Photo

A poignant picture appeared on the sports pages of many newspapers around the globe this week (including some of our Independent Media titles). The picture was a jolting reminder of how precious life is. And how fragile our hold on it really is.

The picture was taken at the 1998 Austrian Grand Prix and it featured two Ferrari Formula One world champions and legends of their sport – Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher. In the picture, Lauda is leaning over giving advice to Schumacher, who is seated in the famous gleaming red cockpit with his helmet on.

Lauda passed away this week at the age of 70 after battling a lung infection, while Schumacher has not appeared in public since his traumatic skiing accident in 2013.

The tributes that immediately poured in for Lauda this week showed the deep level of respect and admiration for him.

That he was one of the all-time great drivers is not to be debated. His three world titles speaks for itself. And he was a champion during a time of fierce competition.

But Lauda was also a man of courage and elegance.

His courage was exemplified by events in 1976. At the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring, one of the most demanding of all F1 venues, Lauda’s Ferrari collided with a barrier and his car went up in flames.

He inhaled toxic fumes and it took more than a minute for marshals to pull him out of his car. He suffered horrific burns that left him close to death and with permanent facial scarring. Yet, a mere six weeks later, his face covered in bandages, Lauda was back behind the wheel.

His elegance came in many forms. It was in the dignified way he carried himself, it was in the perceptive comments he made about his sport, it was in his generosity towards modern drivers. No wonder Lewis Hamilton called him “a light in my life”. No wonder there was such a pull of real sorrow in Hamilton’s statement when the news of Lauda’s passing had reached him.

Rest in peace, Niki Lauda.