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Exclusive interview with Niki Lauda 22 Aug 2007

Niki Lauda (AUT). Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday 22 July 2007. World © Moy/Sutton Race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mclaren MP4-22 leads Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 5 August 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 8 June 2007 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Friday, 13 April 2007 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF107 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 27 May 2007

The 2007 Formula One season is proving a suspense-filled thriller, both on the track and in the courtroom. In his 35 years in the sport, Niki Lauda has seen it all, heard it all and done it all, and hence can be relied upon to ‘tell it like it is’.

We spoke exclusively to the three-time world champion to get his analysis of the 11 races to date and the turbulent rivalries at the head of the field, as well as a prediction for the likely championship outcome…

Q: Two thirds of the season gone with four winners from 11 races. Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen each have three victories and Massa two, so a clear title favourite is still hard to pick. Who would you go for - and why?
Niki Lauda:
I clearly see Hamilton and Alonso as the most logical aspirants for the title, simply because the performance of the car and the drivers is going in the right direction. If Kimi (Raikkonen) moves backwards, he is out of the picture and the world championship will be a shootout between the McLaren-Mercedes drivers.

Q: Rivalry among team mates is normal, but how would you analyze what was going on at McLaren at the Hungarian Grand Prix? Was that still within the range of normality?
What we have seen in Budapest was normal business in team mate relations, as race drivers are groomed to be egocentric, spoiled brats. They will use any legal and illegal ways to beat the other guy. The only problem is that you have to do it in an intelligent way so you don’t get caught like Alonso, who was relegated five places on the grid.

Q: Isn’t it time that McLaren team management gave a clear direction to make sure that the title is not lost due to internal rivalry?
No, it’s not possible to give a team order because of the rules and regulations - and in the end it does not matter whether it is Hamilton or Alonso. In any case it will be a McLaren-Mercedes - and that is all that matters.

Q: Ferrari have had some technical setbacks - at the last two races they’ve only brought one car home in the points. What is your impression of the second title contenders?
Ferrari have had their share of ups and downs. At some races they have been very good, at some they’ve been a bit of a let down. After 11 races it is clear that it is the consistency of bringing both cars into the points that will decide winning or losing the championship.

Q: The McLaren-Ferrari ‘spy scandal’ - much hyped misdemeanour or a solid case of wrongdoing?
Espionage has always been a fact of Formula One. The two teams involved in the current affair did what they thought they had to do and now it is in the hands of a civil court. Let’s wait and see if this was such a good idea to solve the problem.

Q: How much are the two teams suffering from the affair? Both have dismissed or suspended persons in key positions…
The teams have not suffered, except in that they have been talking so much about it. Maybe, therefore, Ferrari is not going that quick in the end.

Q: BMW Sauber: a worthy third place?
BMW have been the surprise of the year - how fast they managed to take over Sauber and establish a team that is constantly sniffing around the podium. Aside from Hamilton, for me they are the true achievers of the season.

Q: Renault: struggling after two years of glory?
Renault was the surprise in the southbound direction. They simply screwed up the transition from Michelin to Bridgestone, but during the season they have visibly improved.

Q: And the ‘best of the rest’?
There is no ‘best of the rest’ - only disappointments like Toyota, a team that is getting nowhere. Another disappointment for me was Red Bull, for not making any advancement after Newey’s arrival. Honda is a fiasco. All in all there’s been a backward movement at the so called ‘best of the rest’ teams.