Niki Lauda was at the centre of Lewis Hamilton’s thoughts after his pole at the Monaco GP, as the Briton paid an emotional tribute.
Lewis Hamilton has dedicated his pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix to Niki Lauda, insisting he would only have one world title were it not for the late Austrian.
Lauda, himself a three-time world champion, died on Monday having served as Mercedes’ non-executive chairman from 2012.
He was often credited as influential in persuading Hamilton to join the team when the Briton was contemplating leaving McLaren seven years ago.
And Hamilton, who was excused from media duties on Wednesday in the aftermath of Lauda’s death, elaborated on that subject after topping team-mate Valtteri Bottas to claim pole at Monaco with a new lap record of 1:10.116.
The five-time world champion, who has won four of his titles with Mercedes, said: “This one is for Niki. To have a cloud over us this weekend, we have tried to lift each other up and deliver for Niki.
“This is definitely one of the best poles I can remember. We have had a lot of success over the years but I can’t remember one that means as much as this one. It has been such a difficult week for the whole team, and personally it’s been a difficult weekend.
“The other day, I didn’t feel like I was really ready [to talk about Lauda]. Toto [Wolff] felt similar and maybe for Valtteri as well. There wasn’t time for us to dig deep into our feelings.”
Hamilton added: “Toto and myself had multiple conversations this week. I was in touch with Niki a lot through these past eight months. We were sending videos back and forth to each other.
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“It was tough. I’m fortunate I got to see him. When I found out the other day, I was here at home in Monaco, down by the pool where I live, and I remembered getting a call from Niki in 2012.
“We hadn’t really spoken, me and Niki. He said, ‘You should come to Mercedes’. I sat down with Ross [Brawn] and he explained where the team was going and I believed in the vision but Niki was the one who brought it to me and put it across.
“All these years, he has been my partner in crime, in all my negotiations and in pushing for improvements on the car. He was such a racer. He would ask what needed to be improved. You would tell him and he’d go to the factory and tell them.
“He was part of the process of changing my life. If I hadn’t had that call, I’d be a one-time world champion and I sit here a five-time world champion and definitely feel like I owe him a lot.
“We all love him and miss him. I have great memories and he’ll live on in all our memories.”
Mercedes are running a red halo in honour of Lauda throughout the race weekend, along with a ‘Danke Niki’ message on the front of the car.