Niki Lauda at the 2018 British Grand Prix.
Image: Luca Bruno (AP)

Three-time Formula One champion Niki Lauda, who turned 69 earlier this year, was hospitalized in Austria for a “severe cough” recently and wound up getting a lung transplant. He’s recovering, according to a statement from the hospital, which also said he’s “improved continuously” since the surgery.

Lauda, who’s now a non-executive chairperson of the Mercedes F1 team and is said to have had a big role in helping sign reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, has been in the Vienna general hospital since at least last week, with the hospital saying surgery took place on Aug. 2. Lauda’s still there, and CNN reports that his organs are “functioning well” since the transplant and that breathing tubes have been removed from his airways.

A statement from the hospital quoted by CNN said 24 hours after the surgery, Lauda was “spontaneously breathing and had full consciousness.”

“During the following days his condition has further improved continuously,” the hospital statement said, as quoted by CNN. “Mr. Lauda will stay at the Vienna General Hospital until his full recovery.”

An Austrian newspaper, Österreich, reported early on that Lauda was on a holiday in Ibiza when he got a lung infection. The paper reported that he flew back to Vienna to go to the hospital, and other early reports said it was a severe case of the flu. The hospital trip turned into a lung transplant, which Lauda’s now recovering from.

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Lauda drove in F1 during the 1970s and ‘80s, winning his first championship in 1975 before a crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix engulfed his car in flames while he was trapped inside. Smoke filled Lauda’s lungs and he had severe burns from the crash, but returned to racing six weeks later wearing bloody bandages. Lauda won the 1977 F1 title before saying in 1979, as the F1 website quotes him, that he was “tired of driving around in circles” and wanted to start an airline.

Lauda came back to racing in 1982 after a big signing offer from the McLaren team, winning the 1984 championship and retiring again in 1985.