Lewis Hamilton has been urged to park his grief and win the Monaco Grand Prix as a fitting tribute to Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
Hamilton has not spoken publicly about Lauda’s death after he withdrew from a press conference previewing Sunday’s blue-riband event here on the streets of Monte Carlo.
The world champion, 34, finished fastest in both practice sessions yesterday, with his dominant Mercedes team again appearing to hold the advantage over the rest of the field.
Sir Jackie Stewart, Britain’s triple world champion, competed in arguably Formula One’s deadliest era.
Jochen Rindt, the sport’s only posthumous champion and a friend of the Scotsman, was killed in practice for the 1970 Italian Grand Prix.
Stewart, like Hamilton this weekend, was the sport’s defending champion. He qualified on pole position at Monza before crossing the line in second place.
“I will never forget that day,” said Stewart, 79. “Forty-five minutes after Jochen’s death I got into the car for qualifying. I was crying when I got in, and I cried when I got out.
“But I put in the fastest lap that I had ever done at Monza. People called it a death wish, but it was just about removing the bad bits because they come back when you stop the car. When you get in the cockpit and the lights go out you are a racing driver, driving the most sophisticated piece of engineering in the world, and you have to bring the car to the absolute limit.
“Lewis Hamilton is capable of doing that this weekend, in qualifying and the race. In my day, you had to manage that mentally in a very strict way, and I suspect Lewis will handle it in exactly the same way as I would have done. He doesn’t need to do it for Niki. He just needs to do the best he can.
“It would be a fitting tribute to win, but I don’t think Niki would care about that. He compartmentalised everything, and would have thought: ‘well if they win they should have won, with or without me’.”
Hamilton will be the favourite to add to his two victories in Monaco after Mercedes dominated practice.
The Briton, who leads Valtteri Bottas by seven points in the standings, edged out his team-mate by eight-hundredths of a second.
The Silver Arrows, who head into Sunday’s race having started the year with an unprecedented five one-two finishes, have struggled on the Monte Carlo streets in recent seasons – the slow-speed track not suiting their machinery. But Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, sporting a Lauda-inspired crash helmet in tribute to the Austrian, finished third, more than seven-tenths down on Hamilton, whom he already trails by 48 points.
Mercedes are paying tribute to Lauda this weekend with the motif, “Danke, Niki” on their cars, while staff are wearing black armbands. Lauda’s former teams, McLaren and Ferrari, are also running tributes on their liveries.
l Sir Jackie Stewart was speaking at the launch of a gold coin to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his first world championship. The coin has been donated by Rosland Capital for auction at the Amber Lounge Fashion Show, with all proceeds going to Sir Jackie Stewart’s Race Against Dementia charity.