Niki Lauda, c1978-c1979.
Credit: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Austrian car-racing icon and three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda has died at the age of 70.

Lauda became legendary for his participation in the 1976 world championship. The driver was horribly burned in a crash at the German Grand Prix but, after a brief period of recovery, returned to the competition, setting up a battle between himself and his rival, the British James Hunt, which the latter would ultimately win, narrowly beating Lauda. That struggle later became the subject of Ron Howard’s film Rush, in which Chris Hemsworth played Hunt and Daniel Brühl portrayed Lauda.

Lauda’s lungs were badly damaged in the accident. According to the BBC, the driver was diagnosed with a severe lung infection last year and had a double lung transplant. In January, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and taken back into hospital in Vienna.

Howard paid tribute to Lauda upon learning of his death. “RIP the Great Niki Lauda,” the director wrote on Twitter. “We first met while making the movie Rush. The F1 world knows of his grit & intensely competitive spirit, but that matched w/his keen intelligence & wisdom made him a distinctively remarkable man. a force.”