Niki Lauda has hit back at claims Mercedes is still sandbagging, one race into its 2016 championship campaign. It was rumoured the dominant champions of 2014 and 2015 held fire on its full performance potential over the winter, and Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko charged even after Melbourne that Mercedes could actually have "lapped the field".
The suspicion is that, amid the political goings-on, a close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari will calm suggestions the current 'power unit' era has been an abject failure. But when asked if Mercedes was really worried about being beaten by Ferrari in Australia, F1 legend and team chairman Lauda insisted: "I was very worried. We almost lost to them, did you not see it?" he is quoted by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
The reporter agreed that the gap between the two top teams in Melbourne appeared to be small. "Ferrari threatened to win the race, there is no 'but' about it," Lauda charged.
As for claims Mercedes is exaggerating the closeness of the gap for the sake of the show, he answered: "Rubbish. The truth is that there was no gap at all between the two cars. It was only the red flag that saved our life otherwise they would have won. It was the most exciting grand prix that I have seen for three years at least," declared Lauda. "I think it was the best grand prix of this era." (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing