An emotional Lewis Hamilton withdrew from Wednesday’s press conference in Monaco, informing his Mercedes team he was not ready to speak about Niki Lauda’s death.
The 34-year-old world champion had been due to participate in the media event to preview Sunday’s race in Monte-Carlo.
But 30 minutes before Hamilton was set to take to the stage, it was announced the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, had given the British star permission to skip the televised briefing.
I’m struggling to believe you are gone. I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together. God rest your soul. Thank you for being a bright light in my life. I’ll always be here for your family should they ever need me. Love you man pic.twitter.com/cotUpuvW2F
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) May 21, 2019
Hamilton was very close to Lauda, the Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, who died on Monday.
It was the Austrian who played a key part in persuading Hamilton to join Mercedes, the team for whom he has won four of his five world titles.
Hamilton who had paid tribute to Lauda on social media, describing him as “the bright light in my life”, arrived in the paddock on his scooter on Wednesday.
He attended team engineering meetings as scheduled ahead of this weekend’s race, and will take part in practice in Monte-Carlo on Thursday.
Thank you 🙏 The memories of Niki you have all shared mean a huge amount to everyone in this Team.
We didn’t just lose a legend in Niki, but a friend and a team-mate.
This weekend, we intend to honour our Chairman in the best way possible. Giving it everything on track! 👊 pic.twitter.com/r9aWnhoCtQ
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) May 22, 2019
A Mercedes spokesperson said: “We asked for Lewis to be excused in the circumstances following yesterday’s news. The FIA kindly agreed to a dispensation.”
Hamilton was replaced by team-mate mate Valtteri Bottas. Asked about the Briton’s well-being, the Finn replied: “He seems okay.”
The Formula One paddock has gathered in the principality under a cloud following Lauda’s death.
To honour the memory of the three-time world champion, black armbands will be worn by team members of Mercedes, while the cars will sport the message ‘Danke Niki’ alongside his signature on the nose. On the engine cover, one of the stars representing the marque’s world titles will be in red, his trademark colour.
Rolling imagery of Lauda is also on show inside their hospitality suite.
Ferrari, for whom Lauda won two of his championships, will also run a tribute on their red machines.
His helmet, meanwhile, will be on display at McLaren’s marketing area, as well as his winning trophy from the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix – the season he won the championship driving for the British team.
A minute’s silence is set to be staged by F1 on the grid before Sunday’s race.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel sent a letter to Lauda as he recovered from his double lung transplant last summer.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) May 21, 2019
Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “As soon as I heard Niki wasn’t doing well, that he wasn’t picking up the phone, a letter generally is a very nice thing.
“What would you appreciate if you were in that situation? For me, it was a no-brainer, a sign of respect not just from me but of what he has done for the sport.
“If it wasn’t for people like him pushing the boundaries at his time, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
“I feel extremely privileged not just to have known him but to have chatted with him regularly.
“His sense of humour was very straight. Sometimes you couldn’t tell whether it was a joke or just a statement.
“You don’t come across people like him very often, not just inside Formula One but in general. He was a unique person.”