MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Lewis Hamilton was excused from media duties earlier this week after the death of friend and mentor Niki Lauda. After delivering one of his trademark laps for pole position for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, he spoke for the first time since the passing of the three-time world champion.
Hamilton, the most prolific qualifier in F1 history, is usually quite measured after claiming a pole position but on Saturday let out a roar of delight -- "That's what I'm talking about! Yes!" -- and then scaled a fence in celebration after parking his car.
Explaining the lap which snatched pole from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.086 seconds, he said: "I was just throwing the car around, I'm pretty sure I touched a few barriers on the way around, but there's no better way of doing it away around Monaco.
"I've not had a huge amount of success around here in the past; it's been a track where I've been quick but never quite get that perfect lap and I think today was the closest I've got to it. So this one's for Niki."
The five-time world champion then elaborated on where his mind had been earlier in the week when he first heard the news.
"Firstly the other day I didn't feel like I was really ready," Hamilton said, referring to his cancelled media sessions on Wednesday. "Toto [Wolff, Mercedes boss] also felt the same way. It wasn't the time for us to dig deep into our feelings because we were still reminiscing on the experiences we had."
One of those experiences stands out for Hamilton. The British driver is currently enjoying one of the most dominant spells in F1 history, having won a bounty of races and four world championships since joining Mercedes in 2013. Lauda, who was non-executive chairman at the German manufacturer, was the person to first make contact with Hamilton when he was contracted at McLaren.
"When I found out the other day I was just thinking because I was here at home in Monaco and down by the pool. I remember getting a call from Niki in 2012 [while sat in the same place] and we had never really spoken before, and he was on the phone and saying 'you should come to Mercedes, this is where you need to be' and I remember that was the first time we'd started talk.
"I always talked about how Ross [Brawn] was the convincing element in me coming to the team because when I sat down with him, he explained what the team was doing and the plan for Mercedes, and I truly believed in that vision, but Niki was the one that brought it to me and really got it across the line.
"All of these years he's been my partner in crime, through all my negotiations and pushing for improvements on the car, he was just such a racer. He was always asking what needs to be improved with the car, if we said it's front suspension, downforce, or the engine, he'd say OK and he'd come to the factory and would be 'giving them a---holes', as he would say."
Hamilton took a moment to reflect on what might have been without Lauda's phone call in 2012.
"Ultimately he was part of the process of changing my life and if I hadn't had the call all that time ago I'd be a one-time world champion now and probably 22 wins or whatever it was I had at McLaren, and now I sit here a five-time world champion and I definitely feel like I owe him a lot.
"It was very, very difficult at the beginning of the week, everyone was posting pictures, and I don't feel like I need to conform to how everyone operates. It comes with time. Again coming here on Wednesday I didn't feel it was the time to do that, but we all love him and miss him and it's hard to think of never getting to see him again, or talk to him and have conversations. But I've got the greatest memories with him and he will live long in my memories."
On the subject of his celebration, he said it felt good to let some positive energy out after hearing the result.
"I was just so super hyped. I tried to hold it in.
"The fans are great here, there's a lot of Brits and a lot of British flags. I felt the fence was going to come over so I'm glad it didn't. I think ultimately in life, it's grateful to have, and we don't always celebrate. I've won races and you go straight into a meeting, and you go home and sit and watch TV and do normal stuff and don't actually capture the moment.
"I think it was just important for me to enjoy the moment because you never know when your next pole is going to be. I'm grateful for it."
On Saturday afternoon, Mercedes confirmed several of its tributes to Lauda will remain permanent fixtures of its F1 cars. The red star in among a sea of grey stars at the back of its car will stay, as will Lauda's signature on the front. The red halo with the message 'Niki we miss you' is for Monaco only.
From today, the W10 will carry a single red star on its livery. ⭐️— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) May 23, 2019
For our Chairman and for our friend. pic.twitter.com/GsuFeoIPGi