File picture: Jon Nazca / Reuters.

Monaco - Lewis Hamilton pulled out of his media duties this week, saying he was too upset by Niki Lauda’s death to talk about it - a no-show that Lauda’s friend and former team-mate John Watson called "pathetic".

Hamilton was due to attend the FIA press conference ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix but, after discussion with his Mercedes team, decided to miss the set-piece. Mercedes then asked the FIA for an exemption, which they granted.

Despite his last-minute absence from media duties, Hamilton had earlier seemed fine when he rocked up in the paddock on his MV Agusta motorbike and signed autographs for fans.

Lauda, in his role as non-executive chairman, played a big part in tempting Hamilton to join Mercedes. Writing on his social media, Hamilton called the Austrian, "the bright light in my life".

But Watson, who raced alongside Lauda at McLaren in the early Eighties, believes Hamilton should have faced the press. He said: "It’s pathetic. I would like to know how Lewis can justify this.

"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 cannot discuss his admiration for how Niki helped him - that’s pathetic. 

"Lewis has not had to deal with tragedy in his motor racing career the way previous generations had to. Niki’s life was not cut desperately short as some drivers’ lives were. He died peacefully with his family around him. What a life - champion driver, airline owner, team manager. I don’t think he had any regrets. If the roles were reversed, Niki would have been telling the press in his blunt way what a great driver and what a fine world champion Lewis is."

Triple world champion Lauda created his legend by coming back to win titles after nearly burning to death in a Ferrari in 1976. He had a lung transplant in August and was aged 70 when he died in Zurich University Hospital on Monday. Hamilton’s press conference place was taken by team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Of Hamilton’s condition, Bottas said: "He seemed OK."

The paddock is being decked out with various tributes to Lauda this weekend. Footage of him will be broadcast in hospitality units and the helmet he wore while winning the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix, during his championship season at McLaren, will be displayed. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel said: "The reason the cars are as they are today is partly down to him, particularly in terms of the safety.

"I feel extremely privileged not just to have known him, but to have chatted with him regularly. His sense of humour was very straight - sometimes you couldn’t tell whether it was a joke or just a statement.

"You don’t come across people like him very often, not just inside Formula One but in general. He was unique."

Daily Mail