On Monday, the family of Niki Lauda confirmed that the Formula One legend passed away at the age of 70.
According to several reports, the 3-time world champion, whose famous rivalry with British F1 legend James Hunt was the subject of the film Rush, passed away peacefully overnight on Monday, May 20, from complications following a lung transplant.
Among several in his family, he is survived by his second wife Birgit, whom he married in 2008. The 40-year old was 30 years his junior. Here’s what you need to know about her.
Birgit Wetzinger & Niki Lauda Dating History
According to the Daily Express, Birgit Wetzinger was a former flight attendant. She worked for Niki’s airline Lauda Air, which ceased operations in April 2013. The two got married in 2008 after dating four years.
After just eight months of dating, Niki required a kidney transplant. He initially asked his son Lukas for one of his, but it didn’t match. When Birgit offered her own, Lauda was skeptical of the somewhat new girlfriend. Per the Express:
“Birgit then said she would do the test, but I asked ‘why would you do the test’? ‘Because I want to’, she said.
“I said ‘you will never ever donate your kidney because I’m ill and I’ve known you for eight [months]’.
“She did the test, and she did fit,” he said in The Mirror. “For about three months she gave me always the same impression, ‘I do it for you because I love you’. She was never frightened or asked any questions, it was just a pure approach ‘I will do it’.”
Neither suffered from kidney complications in the decade-plus since the surgery. Since getting married, Birgit has given birth to twins Max and Mia.
According to our own Emily Bicks, Wetzinger and the Lauda family put out the following statement after he passed:
“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday. His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain. 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.”
Marlene Knaus & Niki Lauda Dating History
Lauda dated Mariella Reininghaus for eight years before meeting German socialite Marlene Knaus. According to the Guardian, she was currently dating German-Austrian actor Curt Jurgens, who most famously played the villain Stromberg in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.
A potential version of their meeting is depicted in Rush, as Knaus hitchhikes for a ride from Lauda to go to a party. She questions his automotive knowledge without knowing who he is, and he impresses her with his driving skills in a drag race.
Lauda and Knaus married within a few months, and she was by his side during his recovery from a nearly fatal crash during a race in Germany in 1976. They had two sons together named Mathias and Lukas. The former is a racer on the Formula One circuit and the latter is his manager.
Marlene and Niki divorced in 1991 after Lauda fathered a child named Christoph through an extra-marital affair, according to the New York Times.
Since then, she has become very private. She deactivated her social media in 2014.