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Motor racing: Lauda leaves airline to focus on Mercedes role

Former Austrian Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda walks in the paddock after the Italian F1 Grand Prix at the Monza circuit September 9,
Former Austrian Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda walks in the paddock after the Italian F1 Grand Prix at the Monza circuit September 9,

(Reuters) - Retired triple Formula One champion Niki Lauda has left the board of Air Berlin so he can devote more time to his new role with Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes Formula One team, the airline said on Thursday.

Austrian Lauda was named as non-executive chairman of the British-based team's board when 2008 champion Hamilton was signed from McLaren last September.

Since then, Mercedes have announced the departure of motorsport chief Norbert Haug after more than 20 years in the high-profile job.

Lauda, 63 and a former Jaguar team principal, is expected to play a link role between the team and Stuttgart car manufacturer.

The Austrian retired from Formula One racing in 1985 to focus on his aviation interests. The low-cost Niki airline he founded in 2003 is now owned by Air Berlin after Lauda sold his stake in 2011.

Air Berlin thanked Lauda in a statement for his "committed, stimulating work for the benefit of the company".

Mercedes finished last season a disappointing fifth overall, with Hamilton joining this year in place of the now-retired seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tom Pilcher)

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