The iconic flame-red helmet was gently laid on top of Niki Lauda’s coffin as his family, friends and hundreds of fans paid their final respects at the funeral of the Formula One pioneer.
Lauda died in his sleep last week, aged 70. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney problems after a lengthy period of ill health.
He will be buried wearing his famous racing suit of Ferrari, the Italian team with whom he won two of his three world championships, and laid to rest in Vienna’s Neustift Cemetery, where his mother is also buried, on Wednesday.
The Austrian three-times world champion was loved by racing fans, not least for his astonishing comeback just six weeks after a horrific crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix, in which he suffered severe burns.
“He was an unpretentious, humble, shining star among the racing drivers,” Toni Faber, a priest at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, told Austrian news agency APA before the service. “He had a sense of humour, was true-to-life, target-oriented and no-nonsense.”
After his retirement, he remained close to the world of motor sport and in recent years served as non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team. Lewis Hamilton, of the Mercedes team, was among the mourners on Wednesday morning.
Such was the scale of his popularity, Lauda is to be buried with full state honours, and Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen will lead eulogies during the church service.
Arnold Schwarzenegger will also give a speech during the mass.