VIENNA (AFP) – Thousands, including Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, are expected to throng Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral Wednesday to mourn the giant of the sport, Niki Lauda, who died on May 20 at the age of 70.
The body of the three-time world champion, clad in a race suit, will be laid out in a closed casket topped with his race helmet in the center of the cathedral from 08:00 to 12:00 local time (06:00 GMT to 10:00 GMT) followed by a public mass and a private funeral.
It will be the first time a sports star has been laid out in the cathedral, an honor previously accorded to prominent personalities such the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Koenig, and the former crown prince of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, Otto von Habsburg.
Austrian media have reported Hamilton will attend, together with other Formula One heavyweights such as Bernie Ecclestone and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, to mourn Lauda, who won the drivers’ world championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and in 1984 with McLaren.
Even after retiring as a race driver, the Austrian remained a fixture on the circuit. Most recently, as non-executive chairman at Mercedes F1 since 2012, he was instrumental in bringing in Hamilton, sparking a run of success for the team.