Niki Lauda has admitted to feeling relief after Mercedes returned to the top of the podium in Japan. While the German camp thinks it was due to a combination of factors, an air of mystery continues to surround Mercedes' recent Singapore slump.
The silver cars, however, returned to the highest steps of the podium in Japan a week later, so team chairman Lauda admitted: "Singapore was a bit of a worrying setback. But to see at Suzuka that we were just like before - the strongest - calmed us down," the F1 legend told Italy's La Repubblica. But that doesn't mean he will once again be trotting out the controversial line about Ferrari, who won in Singapore, being better at making spaghetti than fast F1 cars.
"Enough of this joke," Lauda insisted. "Ferrari has improved a lot this season and done a great job. They are a serious and formidable opponent. And in Singapore they did well enough to put some doubt in our minds. At Suzuka however we got rid of that uncertainty and brought us back to reality -- on some circuits, almost all of them, we are still the best," he declared.
Indeed, many now believe that the only remaining threat to Mercedes this year is a re-escalation of hostilities between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. A collision was only avoided at the start of Sunday's race, for instance, when Rosberg drove off the track to avoid the aggressive Hamilton.
Lauda, though, says he has "zero concern" the situation will descend into a damaging war. "We had this bad collision at Spa last year, but since then nothing has happened," he insisted. "So we are talking about August of 2014 and a lot of time since then." Asked if a repeat of the crash can be ruled out, Lauda exclaimed: "Absolutely. We have two very professional drivers who love the challenge and want to win, but also know that they are racing for a team."
Runaway championship leader Hamilton, however, has a growing points lead, sky-high confidence and near-unprecedented form, causing Lauda to predict he will win the title. "Given his advantage and the way he is driving the car, I would say yes," he said. "Surprises are never excluded, but he has 48 points on Rosberg. In single races he can be attacked, but in the standings he is unreachable," added Lauda.
Asked if the Briton therefore already has his hand on the championship trophy, Lauda said: "He never removed his hands from it, as he also won last season. And from the team perspective it is nice to think that if he cannot do it, his teammate (Rosberg) will." (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing