November 13, 2018 / 6:52 PM / a month ago

Motor racing-Mercedes salute absent Lauda with red cap tribute

BRIXWORTH, England, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Mercedes saluted recovering non-executive chairman Niki Lauda on Tuesday as Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton joined factory staff in celebrating their fifth straight constructors’ and drivers’ title double.

Hamilton, team mate Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes F1 bosses doffed red caps, similar to the one Lauda usually wears, to thank the absent Austrian, who had a lung transplant in August.

Team principal Toto Wolff told Reuters he would love to see Lauda, 69, return for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but it would depend on medical advice.

“I’m going to see him on Friday and I’m so happy to come back with the championship because he has been a strong part of this team,” he said.

“That’s why we toasted him with the red hats today. If he’s making it (to Abu Dhabi), great. But I am definitely looking forward to sharing a plane journey to Australia next year.”

Next season starts in Australia on March 17.

Wolff said he spoke with the triple world champion and team shareholder immediately after Mercedes won the constructors’ title in Brazil on Sunday for the fifth straight season.

That success equalled Ferrari’s five title doubles in a row from 1999-2004.

“I called him and he said: ‘Thank you very much and I miss you guys’,” said Wolff.

“He was sad (not to be in Brazil) but I heard also from a friend that they celebrated in the hospital until 11 in the evening so I think he enjoyed the moment as well.”

Lauda left hospital at the end of October and is now in a rehabilitation clinic.

Hamilton said he had kept in regular contact with Lauda, who was instrumental in the Briton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes at the end of 2012, since the operation.

“He’s just fighting to get fit. It’s not a short journey to recovery for him but he’s massively determined to get back, and on a plane and start travelling again which he loves so much,” he told Reuters at the Mercedes engine factory. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)

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