By Neil Leverett
- Round Six of the 2019 Formula season rolls into the principality as Monte Carlo hosts the Monaco Grand Prix
- Following his sudden death, motor sport will pay tribute to former driver and Mercedes Team Principal Niki Lauda
- On the track, can anyone break the McLaren-Mercedes monopoly after five successive 1-2 finishes this campaign
MONTE CARLO, MONACO – As Formula 1 rolls into Monaco for Round Six this weekend, the motorsport world will gather to pay homage to Niki Lauda, following his sudden death this week.
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Monaco set for Lauda tribute
As Formula 1 rolls into Monaco this weekend, the glitz and glamour of the Monte Carlo will rather be doused with sadness as motorsport bids farewell to Niki Lauda after his sudden and untimely death earlier this week.
Only two weeks removed from F1 marking the 25th anniversary of the passing of Ayrton Senna at Imola, the sport is again reminded that whilst being the home for the rich and famous, Formula 1 still is the most perilous sport around – in spite of the many safety precautions being in place in the modern era.
Lauda died at the age of 70 with his family and friends by his bedside in Zurich, but only recently was Team Principal for McLaren-Mercedes alongside Toto Wolff before a lung transplant last last year somewhat curtailed his involvement in this season’s championship.
Many had described the Austrian’s survival from his infamous ‘fireball’ crash during the German Grand Prix over 40 years ago as nothing less than miraculous, but it now seems the implications of that day in 1976 finally took their toll.
Lauda was far from the party-goer – unlike his British rival James Hunt during their storied relationship in the cockpit together – so there is more than sense of irony the Monagesque principality will be the venue to say its’ final salute to one of F1’s greats this weekend.
‘One of the best drivers’
During his career 171-race career, Lauda won three World Drivers’ Championships with 25 finishes on the top step of the podium. Having built a reputation as on of F1 bravest, relentless but also ruthless characters, the Austrian touched the lives of many generations of the sport.
Of his former fellow Team Head Lauda, Wolff was one of many to pay tribute. As quoted by BBC Sport, the Mercedes Team Principal stated:
“Niki will always remain one of the greatest legends of our sport – he combined heroism, humanity and honesty inside and outside the cockpit. Our Mercedes team has also lost a guiding light.”
Former world champion Nico Rosberg who won the title in 2016 with Lauda as Team Head tweeted, “Dear Niki. Thank you for everything that you did for me. I learned so much from you, adding that his “passion, [your] fighting spirit, to never give up, you belief that you always meet twice in life, and even your patience with us youngsters.”
Hamilton meanwhile has been given the weekend off from media responsibilities but also posted on social media, “I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together. God rest your soul.
Jackie Stewart – who also had his golden era in the break-neck period of the 1970’s was also glowing in tribute, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was one of the finest drivers he had ever seen:
“It’s very sad news. I’ve known Niki for a long time and he was just entering grand prix racing when I was retiring. We had a season together. He always had great integrity and was one the smoothest, best drivers I’ve ever seen.”
Lauda’s death will be greatly felt this weekend in Monaco, but while the Monaco air will be full of emotion, it will also be cause the celebrate the sporting life of one motorsport’s great daredevils, who spent much of his life on the very edge – and often fell off it.
Mercedes monopoly to continue?
On the track around the streets of Monte Carlo, it will be an emotional weekend for all involved particularly the German manufacturer Mercedes who continue to leave all before them in their wake this season.
Whilst Barcelona could have put a spanner in the works for both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, events proved otherwise as it was this time Hamilton who cantered home to victory at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona – ahead of his teammate.
Despite a see-sawing battle at the top of the standing – seven points now separate the Briton and Bottas – its the veritably colossal gap to third-placed driver Max Verstappen that seemingly has any chance of bridging the gap for remaining 3/4 of the season.
Sebastian Vettel‘s powers seem to be on the wane and with teammate Charles Leclerc currently hamstrung by Ferrari’s loyalty to the four-time former world champion, Leclerc is unlikely to be able to showcase his very best in front of his home fans in Monaco this weekend.
It could lie with Red Bull’s Verstappen therefore to lay down the gauntlet to Mercedes, in the knowledge that it was the Dutchman’s former paddock mate Daniel Ricciardo who won 12 months ago. If the chasing pack are to stay in touch with the leaders, Verstappen may very well have to make it successive Monaco wins for Red Bull.
The 2019 Monaco Grand Prix takes place in Monte Carlo this weekend, with race day on Sunday at 1.10pm UK time
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