LONDON – Formula One legend Niki Lauda is "irreplaceable", Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in reaction to the death of the Austrian three-time world champion at the age of 70.
Lauda – whose death comes eight months after he underwent a lung transplant – had been non-executive chairman of Mercedes since 2012 and was instrumental in persuading Lewis Hamilton to move to them for the 2013 campaign from McLaren.
The English pilot has since gone on to win four drivers championships and the team has won five successive constructors titles.
"Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light," said Wolff in a team statement.
"As a team-mate over the past six and a half years, Niki was always brutally honest – and utterly loyal.
"It was a privilege to count him among our team and moving to witness just how much it meant to him to be part of the team's success.
"Whenever he delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought an energy that nobody else could replicate.
"Niki, you are quite simply irreplaceable, there will never be another like you."
Wolff said his compatriot's passing left a huge void in the sport.
"Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport – he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit," said the 47-year-old Austrian.
"His passing leaves a void in Formula One. We haven't just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candour to modern Formula One.
"He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense."
During his driving career, Lauda suffered horrific injuries on August 1, 1976 when, having already won five races that season, his vehicle burst into flames on the Nuerburgring in Germany.
Despite being given the last rites in hospital he made a miraculous recovery to race again just six weeks later still bandaged and in intense pain.
He went on to win two of his drivers' titles post that narrow brush with death in 1977 (Ferrari) and 1984 (McLaren).
Lauda underwent an emergency lung transplant in a Vienna hospital in August 2 last year after contracting an infection in his lungs, which were scarred and weakened by the effects of inhaling high temperature smoke during the 1976 accident.
Years before he had also received kidney transplants. When one failed, a second kidney was donated by his then-girlfriend Birgit Wetzinger, a former flight attendant, who he married in 2008.AFP