MONACO • An emotional Lewis Hamilton was excused from attending an official news conference yesterday ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, following the death of legend Niki Lauda.
The five-time Formula One world champion was withdrawn from the media event at the request of his Mercedes team, with his place taken by teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The Briton, 34, had on Tuesday hailed Lauda as "a bright light" in his life and said he would not have moved to Mercedes without the late Austrian's involvement.
Lauda, a three-time world champion regarded as one of the sport's all-time greats, was non-executive chairman of Mercedes when he died on Monday at the age of 70.
"My buddy, I am struggling to believe you are gone," Hamilton posted on Instagram.
"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 world title in 2008, and join Mercedes in 2013 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 built around him for one that had yet to taste any notable success and was far from certain to do so.
He then won the 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 titles and just missed out to now-retired German teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016.
"Thank you for being a bright light in my life," added 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."
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: "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."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE