Exclusive - Niki Lauda weighs up the title contenders 18 Aug 2008
Three-time world champion Niki Lauda has always been an outspoken observer when it comes to analyzing Formula One title fights. But at the moment, so close is the competition that even Lauda is baffled as to which driver really has the edge.
But from the tenor of the Austrians answers one thing becomes quite obvious: Kimi Raikkonens inconsistency means Lauda sees Felipe Massa as Ferraris best title hope - assuming he can beat McLarens Lewis Hamilton
Q: All indications point to a repeat of last years duel for the Formula One crown between Ferrari and McLaren. Who has the advantage - and why?
Niki Lauda: At the moment both teams are even, especially as their drivers do sometimes make mistakes, although Massa was doing a perfect job in Budapest, but this did not help him because of his cars engine failure.
Q: Three men - Hamilton, Raikkonen and Massa - are the leading contenders for the drivers title. Who has the edge?
NL: Up until now it has been Massa and Hamilton, because Raikkonens performance has been going up and down all the time. Kovalainen did a good job in winning the Hungarian Grand Prix, his first race win, but he was very lucky.
Q: How will Ferrari manage their drivers, given that both have a shot at the title? When will they start leaning towards one driver and who will it be?
NL: This will be automatically resolved at some point, but for the moment Massa has the edge over Raikkonen from the drivers point of view.
Q: Surely as reigning champion Raikkonen must be considered at least a wild card for the title?
NL: At the moment, clearly not.
Q: Turning to team principals, its McLarens Ron Dennis versus Ferraris Stefano Domenicali - the old timer against the new kid on the block. Who is doing the better job?
NL: This is very hard to say, as both seem to be even. Ultimately the result at the end of the season will show who has done a better job.
Q: Earlier in the year BMW Sauber were looking like serious championship contenders, but things seem to have gone backwards in the last couple of races. Was it a case of too much too soon?
NL: No. They did a fantastic job coming out of nowhere to where they are now. But when you look at Hungary, you have to clearly say that for the moment Toyota have passed them.
Q: So are Toyota finally on the road to success?
NL: In Budapest they did a fantastic job, although you have to say that the circuit helped them a lot. Now we have to wait and see what they are able to do with this experience.
Q: Red Bull Racing are currently the leading independent team. Is the Adrian Newey effect finally working?
NL: In my eyes, yes. They have improved the car so much, to be amongst the top ten in qualifying.
Q: What about Williams? They had a good start to the season, but seemed to run out of puff halfway through
NL: As far as I can see, the team seems to have been going in the wrong direction in terms of development, so they have to solve some problems and then take it from there.
Q: Are you surprised that their rookie Kazuki Nakajima has proved a match for the much-lauded Nico Rosberg?
NL: It is too hard to give a judgment on the drivers because the cars performance is not good enough to make a clear decision.
Q: Ross Brawn and Honda: will that develop into a success story? Is he the right medicine for the ailing patient?
NL: Ross is definitely the right medicine, but we have to wait until his changes take effect. And how long this will take, I cannot answer.
Q: Fernando Alonso: a double world champion, yet his rookie team mate has scored Renaults only podium. And theres no sign of a competitive drive for 2009. Did he make the wrong decision?
NL: It was obvious that Renault would not be as competitive as McLaren and Ferrari this year. Alonso himself took the decision to go there, so it is up to him - together with the team - to work as hard as possible to make the car competitive. For Piquet it was very important to have such a result, because he was very weak at the beginning of the season. With his first podium finish he should have gained the confidence to hopefully earn some more points throughout the rest of this season.
Q: Who for you is currently the best driver on the grid?
NL: Well, this is very difficult to say, as the driver is always connected to his cars performance. You have to look at the two combined. For me, in Budapest it was certainly Massa, but two races before that it was Hamilton.
Q: And finally, who has been the best rookie?
NL: Timo Glock.