Lewis Hamilton recalled the past comments from Niki Lauda which made him think he did not like him, and the in-depth conversation that followed to start a great friendship.
When Hamilton was racing for McLaren in the opening years of his career from 2007-2012, few expected Mercedes to be the team that would tempt him away.
But that is exactly what happened, Mercedes’ former non-executive chairman and three-time World Champion Lauda luring Hamilton away from McLaren and over to Mercedes, a move which has since yielded six further World titles for Hamilton, putting him level with Michael Schumacher, who he replaced at Mercedes, on a record seven Drivers’ Championship successes.
But Hamilton would reveal that during his McLaren days, he heard Lauda make some comments which gave the impression that he did not like him.
However, when the time came for them to meet and discuss a potential Mercedes move, Hamilton said the pair learnt just how much more they had in common than they thought, and from there any such thoughts of dislike completely faded away.
Lauda sadly passed away on 20 May 2019, days before the start of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
“I miss Niki so much,” said Hamilton as he looked back on pictures from key moment in his Mercedes career in a team video. “We had some of the best and funniest conversations. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
“I know he had been quite critical of me, and we hadn’t actually met. So this was while I was at McLaren and he was doing commentary, and he just had an assumption of who I was and had these certain comments that he made, so for me, I’m like ‘Niki doesn’t like me’.
“And I remember him giving me a call in 2012, asking me to come to the [Mercedes] team. And I don’t know if I even said ‘Niki doesn’t even like me, what are you talking about?’
“But we met and we had a really in-depth conversation and he’s like, ‘oh, you’re just like me’. I’m like ‘yeah Niki, I’m a racing driver’. [He said] ‘no, no, no, you’re a hard grafter’. So from that moment, we realised that we had a lot more in common than we both anticipated and we had an amazing relationship.
“We used to fly together to races, particularly back from Japan, and he had the funniest stories that you would just be on the floor laughing, me and Toto [Wolff, team principal] with the stuff that he would come out with.
“He was such a fighter, and he’s still very much a part of the team.
“One of the proud moments for me was Niki used to always, if I did a good job, he would take his hat off, which he didn’t take off for anything really, and if I did a bad job, he would do this [rub fingers together in money symbol], basically saying, give me my money back!”
Hamilton went on to win the 2019 Monaco GP, sporting a tribute helmet to Lauda as a mark of respect to the legendary racer and key pillar of the Mercedes team.
It was an eventful race for Hamilton as he looked to cling on with worn tyres, though he managed to keep the chasing pack at bay and take the chequered flag.
The Brit though could not bring himself to celebrate the win, instead, he headed straight to bed, drained “mentally and physically” by the ordeal of the race and the loss of Lauda.
“So this was the race in Monaco in 2019 where I dedicated a helmet to him,” Hamilton reflected as he looked at an image. “And it was a really special day to be honest because we nearly lost the race.
“And it was so important for me to win that race for Niki and I don’t know why, but I guess it’s because that was that week that Niki had left us, so it would mean so much to me if I got that win.
“And I remember nearly losing it and I wasn’t able to even enjoy the joy of the win afterwards. I remember getting back, I was so spent I went straight to bed, I didn’t get up and go to dinner, I didn’t get up and celebrate my win.
“Of course you’re looking back and you’re like ‘I wish I did’, but I just didn’t have the energy, I was so mentally and physically drained and also just sad that I lost a friend.”
Hamilton remains in pursuit of the eighth title which would see him set the new outright Formula 1 record, having already conquered several others such as most wins, podiums and pole positions.