MONACO: Lewis Hamilton said he owed his status as a five-time world champion to Niki Lauda after dedicating his 85th pole position to him on Saturday at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The defending champion and current series leader also explained why he felt it was right for him to withdraw from speaking at a scheduled pre-event news conference on Wednesday.
“It was very, very difficult at the beginning of the week, everyone was posting pictures and I don’t feel like I need to conform to how everyone operates,” he explained.
“And coming here on Wednesday, I just didn’t feel it was the time to do that and I wasn’t ready. Toto (Wolff, Mercedes team chief) also felt the same. It wasn’t the time to dig deep into our feelings because we were still reminiscing on the experiences we had.
“We all love him and we miss him and it’s hard to think of never getting to see him again.
“Or to talk to him and have conversations, but I have the greatest memories of him and he will live long in my memories.”
Talking to reporters after his all-time record lap of the Mediterranean street circuit, Hamilton recalled that it was the three-time champion Austrian, who was non-executive director of Mercedes, who persuaded him to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2012.
It was the first time Hamilton had spoken in public about Lauda since his death last Monday, aged 70.
“I was just thinking, because I was here at home in Monaco and down by the pool. And I remember getting a call from Niki in 2012 – and we had never really spoken before and he was on the phone saying ‘you should come to Mercedes – this is where you need to be’.
“It was the first time we’d started talking. I always said Ross (Brawn) was the convincing element in me coming to the team because when I sat down with him he explained what the team was doing and the plan for Mercedes.
“I truly believed in that vision, but Niki was the one that brought it to me and really got it across the line. All of these years, he’s been my partner in crime, through all my negotiations and pushing for improvements on the car, he was just such a racer.
“He was always asking what needs to be improved with the car, whether its front suspension, down-force, whether the engine was OK. And he’d come to the factory and would be giving them ‘arse-holes’ as he would say.
“Ultimately he was part of the process of changing my life and if I hadn’t had the call, at that time, I’d be a one-time world champion now and probably on 22 wins, or whatever it was I had at McLaren, and now I sit here as a five-time world champion and I definitely feel like I owe him the lot.”