Lewis Hamilton has paid an emotional tribute to “an incredible, supportive role model” Niki Lauda on the first anniversary of his passing.
Three-time Formula 1 world champion and Mercedes’ former non-executive chairman Niki Lauda passed away on May 20 2019, aged 70. Lauda joined Mercedes in 2012 along with Toto Wolff and was instrumental in the team’s rise to the top of Formula 1.
The Austrian was also instrumental in persuading Lewis Hamilton to leave McLaren and join, at the time not entirely successful, Mercedes.
Lauda’s death hit everyone in the team hard and Hamilton, who shared a special bond with the legendary driver, never hid the emotional impact his friend and mentor’s passing had on him.
“Niki is someone who I miss and who I think we all miss dearly,” said the Briton.
“It is a difficult subject to talk about; someone you are so fond of, and someone that ultimately the world has lost, but I have only the greatest memories with Niki.
“Probably the fondest memories I have are from my first conversations. We started talking sometime in 2012 and I just remember being home during the day, having a call from Niki and he is trying to convince me to come to the team. It was very cool to have a call from a world champion and an icon like Niki.
“Then we sat together in Singapore. He came to my room and we had a good conversation. I think that was the time when Niki was like ‘Oh my God, you are just like me in so many ways. We have actually a lot more in common than I anticipated and assumed’
“From then on, we had a really great relationship. We travelled together, I got to spend some time with him in Ibiza. He was such a positive, funny, entertaining guy, he always had the greatest stories to tell.”
As a three-time world champion and a legend of Formula 1, Lauda influenced Hamilton even on the track.
“He was a natural-born racer. He was always thinking about how we can improve.
“The greatest sign from Niki was if you did the job, he would take off his hat. That was him saying, ‘Well done!’ It wasn’t the easiest for him to compliment you, so that would be it for him, to take off his hat.
“We would talk often after the races and he would be asking things like, ‘Hey, Lewis, what do you need to be better? What do you need?’ He was always chasing.
“If I was to learn anything from him it would be that. As a driver and within a team you naturally have to work together but you have to lead it. You have to lead the team, you have to ask the questions, you have to really dig deep and push everybody.
“Niki kind of taught me how to approach that in a working environment and I like to think that I am able to apply that to every day, my everyday racing life.
“I look at Niki as an incredible, supportive role model. With Niki, convincing me to come to a team that at the time had a lot of success to come. To a place where you are welcomed into an environment, given space to grow and given the space to be you and not try to change you.
“Whilst it takes people some time to get used to the concept of what is different in life, I think a lot of people are afraid of what is different but you should never shy away from what is different. That is often one of the key elements that help bring change.
“I am grateful for the opportunity and forever love Niki. I know he is with us every race in spirit,” concluded the six-time champion.