Three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda produced the “most courageous act of any sportsman” in returning to racing so soon after a horrific crash, says former team-mate John Watson.
Austrian Lauda, who won the drivers championship in 1975, 1977 and 1984, died aged 70 on Monday.
He almost died following a crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. Despite suffering severe burns and inhaling hot toxic fumes, Lauda resumed racing 40 days later.
Briton Watson was a team-mate of Lauda at Brabham and McLaren in the 1970s and 1980s and was one of the first people to attend to him after the crash.
“Nobody realised the actual damage to Niki. The real danger he was in was not from the superficial injuries that we could see but from the deeper injury which was that to his lung,” Watson told the BBC.
“He’d suffered inhalation of toxic fumes from the burning fibreglass and we didn’t at the time appreciate the severity of the injury that he’d suffered.
“It was only after two or three days that the story came out that it was the lung damage that was the injury putting his life in danger.
“What was really more remarkable was the speed of his recovery and what he was able to achieve.”