Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda says that it is "absurd" to doubt Sebastian Vettel following his championship defeat in 2018. The German lost out on the title to rival Lewis Hamilton, who bagged his fifth world drivers' championship.
The two were neck and neck at throughout the first half of the year, however a series of on-track mishaps from Vettel and failed upgrades from Ferrari allowed Hamilton to extend his lead at the top and take the championship with two rounds to spare.
But Lauda thinks that Vettel will bounce back, revealing that the 31-year-old gave him a handwritten letter while he was recovering in the hospital from his recent lung transplant operation.
"The letter written by Sebastian, in his own hand, was a great pleasure for me, full of fine words and affectionate considerations," Lauda said to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I didn't expect it, usually drivers don't do these things, they just drive. But he's a good person.
"He has had moments of discouragement, we know, but it would be absurd to question him. He will recover, a champion will not forget how to drive. He'll come back strong as ever and he'll still be Hamilton's rival in 2019."
Lauda missed out on being trackside at much of the races in the second half of the year due to his health, but says that he never skipped a Grand Prix and was able to keep up to speed with the events on the track.
"I didn't miss a single Grand Prix, even though I was in the company of so many IV [therapy utensils]," he said. "I watched all the races, called the pits on the weekends, and they always told me what was going on.
However, Lauda stated that he was "never afraid" during his procedure and recovery, as he was confident he was in safe hands: "I knew it would be hard, very hard. In such conditions I could only do one thing: fight. I did it for every moment, I'm still doing it.
"Being within my walls is something else. The air here is cleaner, the climate is not as bad as in Austria. In a month, they told me, I should be fully fit and ready to start again. I'll follow the Grand Prix as before. Why not?"
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing