Formula One icon Niki Lauda passes away at 70

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Niki Lauda.

Iconic Formula One driver Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70, his family said in a statement on Tuesday.

“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday,” the statement read.

Lauda died eight months after undergoing a lung transplant.

“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain,” the statement added.

“A role model and a benchmark for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed.”

The Austrian race legend won the F1 drivers’ world championship three times, in 1975 and 1977 for Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren.

“All at McLaren are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, colleague and 1984 Formula 1 World Champion, Niki Lauda, has passed away. Niki will forever be in our hearts and enshrined in our history. #RIPNiki,” his former team tweeted.

Lauda was the non-executive chairman at Mercedes since 2012 and was instrumental in bringing in Lewis Hamilton.

During his racing career, Lauda suffered horrific injuries during the 1976 German Grand Prix when his vehicle burst into flames at the Nuerburgring. Despite being given the last rites in hospital he made a miraculous recovery to race again just six weeks later still bandaged and in immense pain.

He missed only two races that season but was unable to deny Britain’s James Hunt, who won his only world title.

That great rivalry was the storyline of the 2013 film “Rush”.

Lauda quit F1 at the end of 1979 to pursue civil aviation. But he returned in 1982, this time with McLaren and won his last world championship with them in 1984.

Lauda underwent a lung transplant in Vienna last year due to infection in his lungs, which had been damaged by the high temperature smoke during the 1976 accident.

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Lewis Hamilton leads fifth successive Mercedes one-two and other talking points from Spanish GP

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Lewis Hamilton is back in charge of the world championship after a superb start fired him to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Hamilton was handed a rare thrashing by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday, but the British star returned to his notorious best, winning at a canter.

Hamilton, who also scored a bonus point for the fastest lap, now leads Bottas by seven points in the title race.

Ferrari’s disappointing campaign continued as confusion reigned over their strategy with both drivers losing out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third.

Vettel crossed the line in fourth, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fifth.

Here are our key talking points from the race.

HAMILTON ROARS BACK

It feels like repetition every race week but Mercedes are simply the superior team and not even a team of Ferrari’s calibre are able to challenge them at the moment.

One of the men at the centre of their success is Hamilton who sealed his third win of the season to add to his two other second place finishes in Melbourne and Baku.

Starting from second, he produced a lightning start to outpace Bottas before turn one and maintained his lead until the end of the race.

Around Circuit de Catalunya, the 34-year-old looked comfortable and did not encounter any difficulty, finishing three seconds ahead of the Finn.

With 16 races remaining in the season, the pendulum is no doubt going to swing in opposite directions, but the Stevenage man has always proved he can come out on top when the pressure is on.

POSITIVE FINISH FOR BOTTAS

Starting on pole for a third successive time, Bottas didn’t look a patch on his Mercedes team-mate despite being fastest all weekend.

The 29-year-old was expected to clinch a third win of the season but a combination of a slow start and general lack of consistent pace saw him finish behind Hamilton and deservedly so. But, in truth, he could have been further behind, only for a safety car late on.

Still, it’s a positive start to the season for Bottas who has won twice and clinched four second place finishes – and sits second in the drivers championship.

DRIVER OF THE YEAR SO FAR?

Verstappen has been pushing his Red Bull to the absolute max and clinched his second podium of the season in Barcelona.

The Dutchman managed to put himself between Vettel and Leclerc on the starting grid in P4, and soared past Vettel early into third.

The 21-year-old proved his mettle throughout the race, staying calm and pushing hard when Vettel tried to claw back his lead late in the race.

With his teammate Pierre Gasly finishing sixth, the package appears tasty and Sunday’s results will only add to Red Bull’s prospects to compete on both drivers and constructors championship fronts for the rest of the season.

FUMBLING FERRARI

Tough times at Ferrari.

Vettel looked slow on pace from the opening lap and Leclerc was allowed to swap places with the German on lap 13.

And just as Leclerc pushed Verstappen for third spot midway through the race, the Scuderia decided to put the Monaco man on the hard tires and Vettel on the mediums, essentially ruining his race.

One would be forgiven for thinking the Italian marque were trying to sabotage his race again, as he came out of the pits slow on pace and confidence.

Vettel and Leclerc went on to finish fourth and fifth respectively, but the strategy at the Prancing Horse is simply too poor and the pit stops too slow.

No wonder their title hopes are over after five races.

HAAS SHINE

It was notable to see the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean finish in the top 10 for the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.

Magnussen secured his second top-10 of the season, while Grosjean sailed home in tenth after holding off the strong efforts of Alexander Albon late on.

It proved to be a successful day for Guenther Steiner and Co., but their results need to stay consistent after a poor campaign to date, where Grosjean has retired three times and Magnussen finishing 13th on three occasions.

SAINZ ON HOME SOIL

A solid afternoon for the Madrid man.

Racing in front of his home fans, Sainz shone in his McLaren and finished tenth – his second points finish this season after picking up six in Baku.

In contrast, his team-mate Lando Norris crashed out on lap 46 after a collision with Lance Stroll.

Expect this to be a close battle for the rest of the season.

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Formula One: Pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas surprised by his dominance in Spanish GP qualifying

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Valtteri Bottas could barely believe the extent of his qualifying victory over Lewis Hamilton for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Bottas issued a statement of championship intent after beating Hamilton to pole position by an enormous 0.634 seconds.

It marked the Finnish driver’s third straight pole to continue his fine start to the campaign.

Bottas might consider himself fortunate to still be sitting alongside Hamilton at Mercedes following last season’s winless campaign.

But he has bounced back with a swagger this year, and heads into Sunday’s race at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of Barcelona holding a one-point title advantage over Hamilton – the pair tied on two victories apiece.

“For sure the gap to Lewis is big, and I never would have expected that,” said Bottas, who yelled in delight over the radio upon hearing he had taken pole.

“To complete a lap like that is a nice feeling, a nice adrenaline rush, and in terms of qualifying this has been my best start to a season.”

Hamilton paid tribute to Bottas, but there is no question he will be irked by the margin of defeat. The world champion has not been at his best this weekend, and he made an uncharacteristic mistake, running wide in his maiden assault on pole. The Briton was then unable to improve on his second attempt.

“It was a bit of a tacky Q3 for me,” said Hamilton. “It is kind of rare, but it happens.

“They were not very good laps – it is as simple as that. Valtteri was just quicker today. He deserved the pole. I am looking at all the solutions to improve in qualifying. We will get there eventually.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel will line up in third, but the German, who is already 35 points off the championship pace, finished the best part of nine tenths adrift.

The Scuderia hoped their new engine would provide the power boost required to reignite their faltering title charge yet they are further away from the Mercedes cars than they have been at any stage this season.

“Coming here, we didn’t expect that,” admitted Vettel.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen managed to finish ahead of Vettel’s team-mate Charles Leclerc to add to Ferrari’s disappointment.

Ferrari’s failure to build on an encouraging pre-season is ensuring Bottas may be Hamilton’s closest rival for a sixth world crown.

And it could be argued that Hamilton is sensing that, too. In the build-up to this race, the Briton has upped the ante on Bottas, challenging his team-mate to last the title course.

He was also keen to point out that one of his championship-winning engineers, Riccardo Musconi, has moved to Bottas’s side of the garage.

It was at this venue three years ago where Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided on the opening lap of the race, and the run down to the first bend, one of the longest on the calendar, could prove critical in determining the outcome on Sunday.

Hamilton said he was too kind to Bottas during the opening corners at the last round in Azerbaijan – the Finn going on to take the chequered flag.

So, will Hamilton adapt his strategy on Sunday?

“I will approach it as we always do,” he said.

British teenager Lando Norris, meanwhile, starts 10th after finishing two places ahead of Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.

Novice George Russell out-qualified Williams team-mate Robert Kubica for a fifth consecutive outing, but he will occupy the final grid spot, penalised for a gearbox change after he crashed out of final practice.

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