Lauda: Brawn favourites, but Red Bull pairing is stronger 14 Aug 2009
If back in March you had tried to predict Augusts championship standings, its virtually guaranteed that youd have got it dramatically wrong. Both the team and driver rankings are topsy-turvy, with backmarkers and midfielders from 2008 leading the way, as the traditional frontrunners fight to close the gap.
Was Niki Lauda surprised by the reversal in fortunes? And how does he think the rest of the year will pan out? We spoke to the three-time world champion
Q: Ross Brawns rise from Honda technical director to Brawn GP owner has taken the team to a shock lead in both championships. Did this story surprise you? And do you think theyll run out of momentum in the hunt for the title?
Niki Lauda: Believe me, their success caught me with the same surprise as everybody else. They have managed to come up with a fantastic package that has to be beaten first. But since the start of the season all the others have caught up, especially Red Bull Racing with their new aero package, and to my surprise McLaren, with their win (the first for a KERS car) in Budapest. Ross has to keep up with his development speed, but clearly at the moment they are the favourites for both championships.
Q: Youve already mentioned the performance of Red Bull Racing. It seems that magical Adrian Newey touch has finally come to the fore again. What do you think they can achieve? The championship?
NL: You cannot trust anybody to win the championship. All you can do is observe how they perform. And so far they have come very close to the Brawns and on some occasions have beaten them. I predict that it will be a nip-and-tuck race between the two with the championship totally open. Thats why we are enjoying such a fantastic season!
Q: Of course, the ability to win both titles is linked to the drivers. Which is the more promising driver pairing in your eyes: Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello or Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber?
NL: Vettel and Webber is the better pairing.
Q: What is going on at Ferrari and McLaren? How do you explain their performances in comparison to their dominance in 2008? They are getting better, but their 2009 championship dreams are well and truly over
NL: Of course both teams will develop their car come hell or high water and at the moment McLaren seem to be on a more promising path, as we saw in Budapest. I expect them to raise their game massively for the upcoming races.
Q: BMW have announced their withdrawal from Formula One racing. What do you believe is the reasoning behind this decision? Is it all to do with their poor performance this year?
NL: For sure their weak performance might have been an issue, but it was no different for them as it was for all the KERS cars. They have all underestimated the aerodynamic disadvantage they would have. Thats why all the KERS teams were in the doldrums, and as I just said, McLaren is the first team to come out of it. The internal reasons for BMW to withdraw I dont know about, and really dont want to know. But if a company makes such a move you have to accept it.
Q: Peter Sauber or anyone else taking over the team would be looking to repeat the success of Brawn GP. Can it be copied?
NL: Why not. All it takes is a sponsor willing to take over and start again.
Q: Toyota started the season well but their form has been very up and down. Whats going wrong in Cologne?
NL: I have no idea whats going wrong again.
Q: Williams have showed good practice and qualifying performances, but they havent quite managed to translate this into podium results. Where do they hit issues?
NL: Its true, they have been very competitive in practice and qualifying, but my impression is that their competitors have a little bit more up their sleeves in the race than Williams. But overall their performance is promising.
Q: Renaults poor performance must be hard to swallow for former world champion Fernando Alonso
NL: Yes, Alonso is the best driver on the grid, and he knows exactly where Renault has its Achilles heel. And whenever, due to track or climate, his car supports his skills and he is able to show that, hes in a league of his own. There are always rumours that link him with a team with a distinctively different colour code. He will know what to do.
Q: Toro Rosso recently sent their experienced driver Sebastien Bourdais packing and took on the talents of another rookie. Whats been your impression of both Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari?
NL: Bourdais never performed and so the decision of Toro Rosso to try another rookie was absolutely correct. I think they have a very promising pairing and we will have to wait and see how those two youngsters develop.
Q: What about Force India?
NL: They have their ups and downs and sometimes Sutil enjoys some very good performances in qualifying. Unfortunately he has not been able to transform it into race results yet. My guess is that the team still has to find its way and has to stabilise before making a step forward.
Q: You now boast over 40 years of Formula One experience and have seen many teams come and go. We are expecting three new ones next season. Will they see success in 2010?
NL: I have no idea. There are so many components that play a role. A Formula One team doesnt come up just like that. But for sure it would be desirable to see new blood in the paddock.