That was the Hamilton mindset about Lauda as the phone rang. A mix of that and immense respect for his professional achievements. So they each had that mutual respect in between the uncertain initial personal dynamics. “So that was a little bit worrying. Then all of a sudden I’m in this position where I need to make a big decision in my life and Niki is on the phone. On one hand I’m. like, ‘Wow, I’m talking to a three-time world champion,’ but I didn’t really know him or whether I could trust this guy. But I sat down with him and in the journey we went on I would like to think we grew to love each other as friends.”
They indeed formed a great bond, but one where Lauda never shied from telling Hamilton when he’d screwed up. Talking with Lauda a few days after the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix collision between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that put both Mercs out of the race on lap one, he explained that he’d listened to Hamilton’s explanation, which was that he had seen Rosberg’s reduced power light and knew what it meant; that he had to attack immediately, which is why he launched down Rosberg’s inside – triggering Rosberg into squeezing him onto the grass there and all the calamity that followed.
Lauda had responded with, “If you saw he was on reduced power, it makes more sense to choose the outside, no? That was your mistake.” No-one else in Hamilton’s camp would be in a position to offer such tough love advice; they wouldn’t have the driving stature.
But they had a ball as friends. “I went to visit him [at his home] in Ibiza,” recalled Lewis. “He would often invite me, we’d fly on his plane and I’d always get him to tell me the stories. He had so many great stories. If you watch Rush he’s portrayed as the serious, dedicated guy in contrast to James Hunt. But that was only one side of him. He loved the ladies too.”