Lewis Hamilton was given dispensation to miss the Drivers’ Press Conference at the Monaco GP following the death of Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ chairman.
Mercedes asked the FIA for Hamilton to be withdrawn, with the world champion replaced in the five-man line-up by teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Ferrari’s drivers were similarly excused from official media duties on compassionate grounds when Sergio Marchionne, the company president, passed away last July.
Hamilton appeared in good spirits when he entered the Monaco paddock and stopped to sign autographs for waiting fans.
But his decision to not front the media on compassionate grounds was met with displeasure from Lauda’s former teammate John Watson.
“It’s pathetic. I would like to know how Lewis can justify this,” said Watson.
“I know he was friendly with Niki, but I find it bizarre that a man of his stature would not be able to face people and tell them what Niki did for Mercedes and give him his due credit for the role he performed.
“He should have spoken out of respect. To be so upset that he apparently cannot discuss his admiration for how Niki helped him — that’s pathetic.”
Hamilton posted a heartfelt message on social media on Tuesday evening paying tribute to Lauda, who acted as a close confidant to him since his arrival at Mercedes in 2013.
“My buddy, I am struggling to believe you are gone,” said Hamilton.
“I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together. It’s truly been an honour working alongside you over these past seven years. I wouldn’t have even been in this team if it wasn’t for you. God rest your soul.
“Thank you for being a bright light in my life. I’ll always be here for your family should they ever need me. Love you man. Your friend always, Lewis.”
Lauda, a triple world champion, passed away aged 70 on Monday. F1 is set to pay tribute to the Austrian great across the Monaco GP weekend.
The drama off the track didn’t affect Hamilton on it as the reigning champ topped the timesheets after the opening practice of the weekend.
Hamilton set the pace with a 1:12.106 but Verstappen, who has insisted that Mercedes are the Monte Carlo favourites, finished the opening session just 0.059s behind.
Valtteri Bottas rounded off a closely-matched top three, also within a tenth of a second of his Mercedes teammate.
“It does look like Max is the only one who can be the cat among those Mercedes pigeons,” said Sky F1’s Karun Chandhok.
PRACTICE ONE FINISHING ORDER
1) Lewis Hamilton — 1:12.106
2) Max Verstappen — +0.059
3) Valtteri Bottas — +0.072
4) Charles Leclerc — +0.361
5) Sebastian Vettel — +0.717
6) Pierre Gasly — +1.064
7) Nico Hulkenberg — +1.121
8) Kevin Magnussen — +1.126
9) Kimi Raikkonen — +1.257
10) Romain Grosjean — +1.273
11) Daniel Ricciardo — +1.307
12) Antonio Giovinazzi — +1.331
13) Daniil Kvyat — +1.625
14) Alexander Albon — +1.721
15) Lando Norris — +2.172
16) Sergio Perez — +2.460
17) George Russell — +3.009
18) Robert Kubica — +3.408
19) Lance Stroll — +4.029
20) Carlos Sainz — +48.564
— with James Galloway, Sky Sports