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Niki Lauda praises Sebastian Vettel and worries about Ferrari threat to Mercedes

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Niki Lauda praises Sebastian Vettel and worries about Ferrari threat to Mercedes
Sep 23, 2015, 11:33 AM

Mercedes F1 team chairman Niki Lauda has called Sebastian Vettel "extraordinary, a driver with two qualities that few others possess - brains and s...

Mercedes F1 team chairman Niki Lauda has called Sebastian Vettel "extraordinary, a driver with two qualities that few others possess - brains and speed," and has expressed his concerns that Ferrari is now "the strongest it has been for years."

Ferrari outqualified and outraced Mercedes in Singapore, having been close on pace at all the recent races this season where the supersoft and soft tyres were chosen (Canada/Austria). Although this weekend in Suzuka is likely to see Mercedes' advantage restored on the hard and medium compound tyres, Lauda says what happened in Singapore must serve as a wake up call to his team.

Speaking to Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport Lauda said: "You know what worries me the most about what happened? Leaving Singapore without really understanding what slowed us down. At the same time as I saw a Ferrari that is the strongest it has been for years."

The three time world champion also singled out Vettel's performance, "He drove a masterful race, as only great champions can do. Did you see that first lap when he pulled three seconds gap on the field? And the skill at restarts? He has two qualities that very few drivers possess: brains and speed."

Lauda, Vettel

Lauda explained that Mercedes knew from Friday practice in Singapore that it was in trouble, the car sliding too much, lacking grip in comparison with its rivals.

Both drivers said the car felt balanced, but lacked grip and were mystified as to how the Ferrari and Red Bull cars were able to find so much grip on the same tyres. It was almost as if they were using medium tyres when the rivals were on supersoft.

"They tried everything on the set up, experiments of all kinds," said Lauda. But neither they (drivers) nor their engineers could work out what was happening."

He added, "On the positive side this will serve as a wake up call, a really good wake up call. Theoretically (the world championship) does not open up here because we still have a big (points) advantage over Ferrari.

"But we only need another race to go badly and Ferrari is there, ready to capitalise with Vettel. Hamilton has 49 points on Sebastian with six races to go. It's a nice margin, but we cannot lose focus.

"I still think the Mercedes is the strongest car so I'm optimistic.

"But the championship is open."

Lauda's comments can be taken at face value, but there is also a political dimension to this, with the goings on behind the scenes around Mercedes' refusal to give Red Bull an engine and Red Bull's ongoing appeals to Ferrari to supply one.

Ferrari should be strong and believe in themselves, is the subtext here.

Mercedes' Red Bull snub has not been a popular decision at the highest levels of the sport and this 'first mover advantage' leaves Ferrari in an awkward position as the only possible engine supplier to Red Bull. Ferrari's reservations about supplying Red Bull are the same as Mercedes', although there was another dimension for the Stuttgart marque as they feared a Red Bull partnership with VW/Audi in 2018 and did not want to be supplying Red Bull during the build up phase to that, risking IP on its technology leaking to one of its main commercial rivals.

The latest scandals around VW in the USA on emissions cheating have come out of the blue and VW boss Martin Winterkorn has resigned; certainly the repercussions of this scandal will be hugely expensive for VW. The company yesterday made clear it's set aside $7 billion for making good, fines and reparations over the affair. It could run deeper than that.

Committing to an F1 campaign has suddenly become a very low priority in that context. However as the affair also highlights the likely long term disruption of the diesel automotive market, VW and Audi may be forced to shift towards petrol hybrid turbo engines and what better place to promote that than F1, which is the pinnacle of this technology?

Talking up Ferrari at this time is a smart move by Lauda in terms of the long term interests of the sport.

Lauda Schumacher

But the reality is, he's a plain speaker and he clearly believes what he is saying about Vettel and the team with which he won two of his world titles. He was the pioneer of that special alchemy between Germanic driver and Italian style and technology. Michael Schumacher repeated the formula with devastating effect and Vettel looks set to write a new chapter.

Lauda knows it when he sees it.
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