MONACO (AP) — Exhilarated at the Monaco Grand Prix after clinching a record-extending 85th pole position in fine style, Lewis Hamilton was also quick to dedicate his latest success to friend and mentor Niki Lauda.
Hamilton beat Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas on the last lap of qualifying on Saturday and he will aim for his 77th career win in Formula One on Sunday, which will feature more tributes to Lauda.
Lauda, who died on Monday, played a key role in getting Hamilton to join Mercedes in 2013 after he left McLaren.
“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,” Hamilton said. “I have great memories and he’ll live on in all our memories.”
Lauda’s phone call to Hamilton in late 2012, when Hamilton was sat by his swimming pool at home in Monaco, proved both decisive and fruitful. Since joining Mercedes, the British driver has won four world titles to add to his first with McLaren in 2008.
“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 (now) I sit here a five-time world champion,” Hamilton said. “I definitely feel like I owe him a lot.”
Lauda, a three-time F1 champion, died at the age of 70 less than one year after a lung transplant.
“I was in touch with Niki a lot through these past eight months. We were sending videos back and forth to each other,” Hamilton said, pausing to collect his thoughts. “It was always difficult as some days he looked good, he was perky and saying ‘I’m coming back, I’m feeling strong,’ and other days, he had lost a lot of weight. It was tough.”
There will be a special ceremony held in Lauda’s honor in Monaco.