By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) – Mercedes will keep a red star on their Formula One cars as a permanent remembrance of triple world champion Niki Lauda, the team’s non-executive chairman who died last Monday.
A red three-pointed star on the engine cover is one of several on-car tributes to the Austrian at Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, with the ‘halo’ head protection device painted red as a reference to Lauda’s familiar red cap.
“Niki we miss you,” is written on top of the halo, while the nose of the car bears Lauda’s signature.
The Austrian, who was 70, wore a red cap to cover the burns sustained in a fiery 1976 crash at the Nuerburgring which almost cost him his life.
The then-Ferrari driver, a two-times Monaco Grand Prix winner, returned within weeks and battled James Hunt for the championship, losing out that year but winning again in 1977 and 1984.
“I’m really happy how we started off this weekend with the red halo, and the little star — which is going to stay on the car forever — and the signature,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “It was nicely done.”
Mercedes have both their cars on the front row of the grid for the showcase race, with five-times world champion and overall leader Lewis Hamilton on pole position.
That pole position was also a record for Hamilton as his 59th for a single team, beating Michael Schumacher’s 58 with Ferrari.
“To beat those records is something that makes me very proud, very proud for the team,” said Wolff. “But as Niki would say it’s all not worth anything if you don’t win the championship.”
Mercedes have won the first five races of the season one-two and look set to celebrate their sixth successive top-two finish this season.
Hamilton paid a moving tribute to Lauda after qualifying on Saturday, highlighting the role he had played in his 2013 move from McLaren to Mercedes.
“He was part of the process of changing my life,” said the Briton.
“If I hadn’t had the call all that time ago, I would be a one time World Champion now and probably 22 wins… and I sit here a five-time world champion and I definitely feel like I owe him a lot.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)