Lung transplant worse than Nurburgring inferno - Lauda

Milan - Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda said on Thursday that undergoing a lung transplant had been worse than his horrific crash at the German Grand Prix in 1976.

Now 69, Lauda was crowned world champion for the first time in 1975 and cheated death the following year in a horrific crash at the Nurburgring which left him with severe burns.

"When I had the accident in Germany it was only a matter of a month or so, I had burns, I was burnt, but I left it quickly. Now it was really long, but I'm still here ...," Lauda said in an interview with Gazzetta Dello Sport.

The Austrian underwent surgery in Austria last August, and left hospital two months later.

"I knew it would be hard, very hard," he said. "In such conditions I could only do one thing: fight.

"I was never afraid. I was in the hands of specialists.

"I did it for every moment, I'm still doing it."

Lauda was given the last rites after his crash only to return to the cockpit later that season after missing just three grand prix.

Since then he has suffered from the after-effects of the toxic gases he inhaled in the accident and also required kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005.

The Mercedes non-executive chairman said he had been particularly touched by a handwritten letter he had received from Ferrari's four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

"One of the things that most pleased me was the letter that Sebastian sent me, written in his own hand, full of fine words and affectionate considerations," he said.

"I didn't expect it, usually drivers don't do these things, they just drive. But he's a good person."

Vettel was fighting for the title this year, and Lauda said his goal had been to recover quickly to follow the duel with his Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton on television.

"I didn't miss a single grand prix.

"I phoned the garage during the weekends, they always told me what was happening, it was like being together with the others at the side of the track.

"I must say that I discovered once more the warmth of the people with whom I've been working for years, all good, all worried."

Lauda again congratulated Hamilton on his fifth world championship triumph.

"It was exceptional. He won the most difficult world championship because often Ferrari were better than us but he did not make a mistake. 

"Between one race and the other, or even between the qualifications and the grand prix in progress, he phoned me, briefed me, as did (team principal) Toto (Wolff), as did the others whom I thank." 

Lauda said he will spend Christmas with his family in Ibiza, but is undergoing six hours of training a day and is accompanied by two full-time trainers.

"In a month, they told me, I should be fully fit and ready to start again.

"I'll follow the grands prix as before. Why not?"

Lauda, meanwhile, said it would be "absurd" to underestimate Vettel who finished second to Hamilton for the second year in a row last season.

"He has had moments of discouragement, we know, but it would be absurd to question him.

"He will recover. A champion does not forget how to drive."

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