Niki Lauda’s helmet was placed on top of his coffin. Picture: Joe Klamar
Niki Lauda’s helmet was placed on top of his coffin. Picture: Joe Klamar

Child steals show at star-studded F1 farewell to Niki Lauda

SCORES of motorsport greats and thousands of fans have bid an emotional farewell to Austrian triple Formula One champion Niki Lauda at the main cathedral in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton and his former Mercedes team colleague Nico Rosberg struggled to hold back tears as they walked besides Lauda's coffin at the end of a requiem mass - the first memorial service held for an athlete at St Stephen's Cathedral.

"He showed us how far a human can go," Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said in his eulogy for the Formula One ace, airline entrepreneur and non-executive Mercedes team chairman.

"Goodbye, great champion."

Prayers were offered by mourners, including a child who stole the show with a piece of advice to heaven: "Dear God, take good care of Niki. But watch out, he's always the fastest."

Guests at the ceremony included former drivers Jackie Stewart, Eddie Jordan, Alain Prost, Gerhard Berger and David Coulthard, as well as Hamilton's current teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and FIA motorsports body president Jean Todt also attended the mass.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was among the mourners. Picture: Ronald Zak/AP
Arnold Schwarzenegger was among the mourners. Picture: Ronald Zak/AP

Lauda's racing helmet was placed atop his coffin, and a band played Tracy Chapman's hit Fast Car, one of Lauda's favourite songs.

Lauda died on May 20 at the age of 70, having failed to recover from an emergency lung transplant.

His motorsport fame rests not least on his comeback to the racetrack in 1976, only 42 days after a near-fatal, fiery crash that left him with a disfigured face, a damaged lung and other permanent health problems.

Three years later, Lauda retired to run his own airline, but he returned to Formula One one more time to win his third championship in 1984.

Key moments of his racing career have been turned into the 2013 film Rush. German actor Daniel Bruehl, who portrayed Lauda in the biopic, paid his last respect in Vienna, along with action movie star and former California governor Schwarzenegger.

Fans lined up for hundreds of metres in the rain to get a chance to say goodbye to the Austrian motorsport hero and businessman.

As an airline entrepreneur, Lauda also fought his way back from the crash of one of his aircraft that left 223 people dead in Thailand in 1991.

Lauda was dressed in his race suit for his final journey, according to St Stephen's priest Toni Faber.