An emotional Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole for the Monaco Grand Prix and said: “This is for you, Niki.”
Hamilton will start as the overwhelming favourite to win on Monte Carlo’s tight streets on Sunday after he edged out team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.086 seconds with his final lap.
The exuberant world champion yelled over the radio in delight, before leaping out of his silver machine and jumping on to the catch fencing at Rascasse to celebrate with fans.
After securing his 85th career pole, Hamilton spoke for the first time about Niki Lauda – the non-executive Mercedes chairman who died on Monday – after he skipped his media commitments earlier this week, saying he was too upset.
“Niki would have wanted us to get in the car, and he would say ‘give it a***holes’,” said Hamilton. “He says that all the time.
“We wanted to do him proud and so far we have done that. We will try to pull out something special for him tomorrow.
“We have had a lot of success over the years, but I cannot remember a pole lap that means as much as this. It has been a difficult week for the whole team, and personally, too.
“There has been a cloud over us, but we have been trying to lift each other up and deliver for Niki.”
Hamilton danced his way around the principality with the painted red halo, in tribute to Lauda, standing out on his silver car.
Lauda has been absent from the F1 scene since he underwent a double lung transplant last August.
“I was in touch with Niki a lot over the past eight months,” added Hamilton. “We would send videos back and forth.
“Some days he looked good and was really perky. But there were other days where you could see he had lost a lot of weight – it was tough to see from afar.”
Hamilton then reflected on the phone call he received from the outspoken Austrian – urging him to turn his back on McLaren and move to Mercedes.
The British driver has won four of his five world championships, and 54 of his 75 career victories with the Silver Arrows. In contrast, McLaren have not won a single race since the British star left.
“I was down by the pool where I live here in Monaco, and I remember getting a call from Niki,” said Hamilton.
“We had never really spoken before, but he said to me, ‘you should come to Mercedes, this is where you should be’.
“Over the years he became my partner in crime, involved in negotiations, pushing for improvements on the car. He was such a racer. He would be back at the team factory giving them a***holes.
“He was a part of the process of changing my life. If I didn’t receive the call, I would be a one-time world champion, probably with 21 wins. Now, I sit here as a five-time world champion and I owe him a lot for that.
“We all love him, miss him and it is hard to think I will never see him again, and have another conversation with him. He will live long in all of our memories.”
Mercedes have had it all their own way this year, starting the campaign with a record five one-two finishes. The Silver Arrows are on course to make it six in six after another dominant performance. It would be the perfect tribute.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen lines up third ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. His team-mate Charles Leclerc is set to start 16th after a woeful Ferrari miscalculation eliminated the Monegasque from the opening phase of qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton has called on Ferrari to raise their game after Mercedes romped to a record fourth one-two finish in Azerbaijan on Sunday.
Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag ahead of Hamilton to match his Mercedes team-mate with a second win of the season and regain the lead of this year’s championship by a single point.
Until Sunday, no team in Formula One history had enjoyed a perfect start to the season after four rounds of racing.
Sebastian Vettel finished third, never troubling the Mercedes cars, while his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc crossed the line in fifth – his afternoon compromised following a crash in qualifying.
Vettel has already been cast 35 points adrift in the drivers’ standings with his Ferrari team 74 points behind Mercedes in the race for the constructors’ title.
A combination of errors by both of Ferrari’s drivers, as well as a car which has failed to build on its pre-season promise, leaves the Italians in trouble and Hamilton in the box seat to win a sixth world crown.
This is the strongest start to a season for a team in F1 history. 4 back to back 1-2’s, wow. I couldn’t be prouder of this team, the sheer amount of hard work and vision I see each day from everyone here is mind blowing @MercedesAMGF1 📷 @MSI_Images pic.twitter.com/5CGMkI3bfN— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 28, 2019
And the 34-year-old British driver believes Mercedes’ dominance will extend into the European season – which kicks off in Spain a week on Sunday – unless Ferrari begin to improve.
“Until they start performing at the level we are at, then this is how it’s going to be,” said Hamilton.
“We definitely didn’t expect to have the performance we have but I’m glad we do. I just think the team is out-performing itself.
“They’re going to have to pick it up if they want to fight us.”
A dejected Vettel was in agreement with Hamilton – Ferrari’s optimism after two weeks of winter testing in Barcelona now a distant memory.
“He is right, we need to pick it up,” said Vettel, who is on a losing streak which has now extended beyond eight months – his last victory at August’s Belgian Grand Prix.
“We need stronger pace. It is as simple as that. We need to be faster.
“It’s like a Rubik’s cube where you have to have everything in the right order.
“We have a good car, but we’re not using it in the way to get the results we should be getting.”
Lewis Hamilton is relishing being back at work as Formula One’s reigning world champion prepares to defend his crown.
The Mercedes star is this year bidding to win his sixth title, and move to within only one of Michael Schumacher’s record haul.
Unlike in recent seasons, however, Hamilton has not arrived in Melbourne for the sport’s traditional curtain raiser as the favourite to win the championship.
Indeed, after an impressive eight days of winter testing in Barcelona, it is Hamilton’s Ferrari rival, Sebastian Vettel, who will seemingly start the campaign as the driver to beat.
Hamilton, who turned 34 at the beginning of the year, is gearing up for his 13th season in F1 and – following the retirement of Fernando Alonso – is now behind only Kimi Raikkonen in terms of grands prix appearances of the sport’s current crop.
Yet, the Englishman, who kept a low profile during the off-season, pointed to his extracurricular activities away from the race track, notably the recent launch of his second Tommy Hilfiger fashion range in Berlin, as a reason why he heads into the forthcoming campaign as motivated as ever.
“I have just come off my break and while I got to do a lot of things that I wanted to do, I have missed working,” he said.
“I am a workaholic. I love working with people and I feel as soon as I get back to work, I am living my purpose.
“Yes, there are things around the job that I could happily not do because I just want to go racing.
“I don’t struggle with the motivation for that. But, if I didn’t have the other things in my life, maybe that would be a different story.
“I am fortunate, however, that I have these other projects. I love going to fashion shows, and being involved in the collection with Tommy Hilfiger. It is awesome.”
Hamilton held the upper hand over Vettel last year and in 2017, winning back-to-back championships with two rounds to spare.
Mercedes, meanwhile, are chasing a record sixth driver and constructors’ championship double.
But on the eve of this weekend’s race, Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff warned: “Last year, we had to give it absolutely everything to come out on top, but from what we have learned so far, this year will be even tougher.
“It will push us to our limits – and that’s an exciting prospect for every single one of us. We’re ready for the fight.”
*Lewis Hamilton was speaking at the launch of the new range of PETRONAS Syntium with CoolTech at PETRONAS’ state-of-the-art Global Research & Technology Centre in Turin, Italy.