Watson raced alongside three-time world champion Lauda, who died on Monday night at the age of 70, with McLaren during the 1982 and 1983 campaigns.
With F1 heading to Monaco this weekend for the sixth round of the 2019 season, a number of tributes have been planned for Lauda, including a minute’s silence before Sunday’s race and a number of his race-winning cars transported to the Principality from the FIA’s Hall of Fame in Paris.
A number of drivers spoke at length about what Lauda meant to both them and the sport on Wednesday, but Hamilton requested to withdraw from his planned appearance at the drivers’ press conference, with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas taking his place.
Hamilton’s decision has been criticised by some due to his non-appearance to pay tribute to Lauda, who was the Mercedes non-executive director and the man responsible for bringing him to the team from McLaren at the end of 2012.
The harshest criticism came from 73-year-old Watson, who was not impressed by the sight of Hamilton arriving at the track on his MV Augusta motorbike before deciding to pull out of the press conference.
“It's pathetic. I would like to know how Lewis can justify this,” Watson told the Daily Mail.
“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 has won four of his five world championships alongside Lauda at Mercedes, while his first title came with the McLaren team that took the Austrian to his third and final world title in 1984 – eight years after his life-threatening accident at the Nurburgring.
The accident altered Lauda’s career as he fought for his life in the days after, only to return to racing two grands prix and 40 days later in an incredible attempt to retain the world championship in his 1976 battle with James Hunt. Despite eventually losing out to the British driver, Lauda would regain the world championship the following year.
Lauda’s crash came in the middle of F1’s most dangerous era, with two drivers killed the following year and 12 in total during the 1970s.
Since Hamilton came into the sport in 2007, there has not been a fatality during a race thanks to the improvements in safety since the days of Lauda and Watson. Frenchman Jules Bianchi died nine months after his accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, while Maria de Villota died in October 2013 that was related to her testing accident the previous year.
Watson believes that the change in safety has a part to play in Hamilton’s failure to appear at the press conference, claiming that had the tables been turned, Lauda would have been the first person to pay tribute to what Hamilton had achieved.
“Lewis has not had to deal with tragedy in his motor racing career the way previous generations had to,” Watson added. “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. And his personal life was worthy of a movie in itself. I don't think he had any regrets.
“If the roles were reversed, Niki would have been in there telling the press in his typical blunt way what a great driver and what a fine world champion Lewis is.”
Hamilton posted a message on Twitter on Tuesday evening to pay tribute to Lauda, in which he wrote: “I’m struggling to believe you are gone. I will miss our conversations, our laughs, the big hugs after winning races together. 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.”
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