Lewis Hamilton dedicated his pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix to the late Niki Lauda, and said he would still be a one-time Formula 1 world champion if it wasn’t for a call from the Austrian.
Lauda died on Monday after a number of health issues over the past eight months, including a double lung transplant. The three-time world champion was non-executive chairman at Mercedes and Hamilton hadn’t spoken to the media about Lauda since his death, but after snatching pole position with his final attempt in Monaco, said the lap that beat teammate Valtteri Bottas has added significance.
“This is definitely one of the best poles that I can remember,” Hamilton said. “Obviously I’ve had a lot of success over the years, but I can’t really remember one that means as much as this one. It’s been such a difficult week for the whole team, and personally, it’s been quite a difficult weekend. It’s amazing how we’ve turned up as a team and [are] continuing to take strides forward to develop collectively and get stronger and improve on our performance weekend in, weekend out.
“I’m so, so proud of everyone, but to have a little bit of a cloud over us this weekend, we’ve really tried to lift each other up for Niki. Valtteri did a sensational job. Practice one and two were good for me, and then today the car didn’t feel anywhere near as good as it did on Thursday, so digging deep to turn the car around.
“Valtteri did a great lap first lap … naturally I had to gain two tenths as Valtteri was ahead, and I thought Valtteri would be up. So I was just throwing the car around – I’m pretty sure I touched a few barriers on the way around – but there’s no better way of doing it away around Monaco.
“I’ve not had a huge amount of success around here in the past, it’s been a track where I’ve been quick but never quite get that perfect lap, and I think today was the closest I’ve got to it. So this one’s for Niki.”
Hamilton also spoke about the influence that Lauda had on his career, including helping to convince him to move to Mercedes at the end of 2012.
“The other day… Toto also felt the same way. It wasn’t the time for us to dig deep into our feelings, because we were still reminiscing on the experiences we had. We’ve had multiple conversations this weekend.
“I was in touch with Niki a lot through the past eight months, we’d be sending videos back and forth to each other, and it was always difficult because some days he looked good and really perky and saying he’d be back and coming strong and at this race, and then there would be other days where he’d immediately lost weight, so it was very tough from afar.
“When I found out the other day, I was just thinking because I was here at home in Monaco and down by the pool. I remember getting a call from Niki in 2012, and we had never really spoken before, and he was on the phone and saying, ‘you should come to Mercedes, this is where you need to be’, and that was the first time we’d started talk.
“I always talked about how 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 and 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, if we said it’s front suspension, downforce, or the engine, he’d say OK and he’d come to the factory and would be ‘giving them assholes’ as he would say.
“Ultimately he was part of the process of changing my life, and if I hadn’t had the call all that time ago, I’d be a one-time world champion now and probably 22 wins or whatever it was I had at McLaren. And now I sit here a five-time world champion, and I definitely feel like I owe him a lot.
“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. It comes with time. Again, coming here on Wednesday I didn’t feel it was the time to do that, but we all love him and miss him, and it’s hard to think of never getting to see him again, or talk to him and have conversations. But I’ve got the greatest memories with him and he will live long in my memories.”