MONACO (Reuters) – Five times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton hailed Niki Lauda on Tuesday as “a bright light” in his life and said he would not have moved to Mercedes without the late Austrian’s involvement.
Lauda, a triple world champion regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats, was non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team when he died on Monday night at the age of 70.
“My buddy, I am struggling to believe you are gone,” Hamilton posted on Instagram ahead of this weekend’s showcase Monaco Grand Prix.
“I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together.
“It’s truly been an honour working alongside you over these past seven years. I wouldn’t have even been in this team if it wasn’t for you.”
Lauda was instrumental in persuading Hamilton to leave McLaren, where he won his first title in 2008, and join Mercedes at a time when the German constructor had yet to emerge as a dominant force.
Some prominent paddock pundits felt the Briton had taken a wrong step, leaving a team that was built around him for one that had yet to taste any notable success and was far from certain to do so.
Hamilton then won the 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 championships and just missed out to now-retired team mate Nico Rosberg in 2016.
Mercedes have won both titles for the past five years and have started this season with a record five straight one-two finishes.
“Thank you for being a bright light in my life,” said Hamilton of Lauda, who famously survived a near-fatal crash in 1976 and then made a quick and courageous comeback. “I’ll always be here for your family should they ever need me”.
Lauda, who was treated in hospital in January for about 10 days while suffering from influenza, had a lung transplant last August.
“His passing leaves a void in Formula One,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said in a statement.
“We haven’t just lost a hero who staged the most remarkable comeback ever seen, but also a man who brought precious clarity and candour to modern Formula One. He will be greatly missed as our voice of common sense.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)