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Niki Lauda Q&A: Vettel still favourite for the title 19 Aug 2010

Niki Lauda (AUT).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Saturday, 29 May 2010 Race winner Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing celebrates with second placed Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 1 August 2010 Niki Lauda (AUT) (Left) with Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal (Right).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, European Grand Prix, Race, Valencia Spain, Sunday, 27 June 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 1 August 2010 (L to R): Niki Lauda (AUT) with Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 27 March 2010

You could say it’s been a good season for Niki Lauda. At six of the 12 races to date the Austrian has heard his national anthem ring out thanks to Red Bull victories. But it is not mere patriotism making Lauda - a three-time world champion and acknowledged F1 expert - tip that team to lift both titles. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Lauda reviews 2010 thus far, explains why Vettel still has the edge over Webber, why Ferrari should fear their WMSC hearing, and why Mercedes should give up now on 2010…

Q: Niki, do the current championship standings reflect the true balance of power in Formula One at the moment? Mark Webber and Red Bull Racing leading the way…
Niki Lauda:
Of course. The driver with the most wins and the team with the best team results hold the top spots in the respective standings. It’s as simple as that. Mark won four races while his pursuers Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso only have two under their belts. Winning a race indicates that you were able to react to every situation to your benefit. Sometimes there is luck involved, yes, but there is also the saying that fortune favours the bold…

Q: Red Bull have had arguably the best car on the grid since the start of the season, yet only at the last race in Hungary were they able to translate that into the lead of the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Why was that?
We have seen very often that there is an outstandingly fast car that doesn’t make it to the chequered flag too often and until the Hungarian Grand Prix that was the case with Red Bull. They have the fastest car and I always believed that it is only a matter of time before they will prevail and internally come to terms with errors of the human and technical kind.

Q: Putting the standings to one side, who do you see as the outstanding driver of 2010 so far?
Still Sebastian Vettel. What he showed again in the Budapest qualifying in terms of sheer speed outclasses everybody - especially as team mate and race winner Mark Webber has the same material. Behind him I see, of course, Mark and the other usual suspects in this year’s championship - Hamilton, Alonso and Button.

Q: Vettel did indeed look like a sure-fire winner in Hungary. How does a driver cope with misfortune just before heading into a long summer break?
Well, Webber has surely had a cheerful summer break and Vettel will be fretting for a while. But that is something that he has to go through. But he is young enough to put things like this behind him quickly. I am not sure if this is any consolation for him, but the championship is getting more and more exciting with every race and I think that millions of fans are interested to see if after so many unhappy situations he can still win the title.

Q: What do you make of the rivalry between the Red Bull drivers. In the end could it cost them the title?
You have two models of how to race in Formula One as a team. If you approach it politically then you are in the Ferrari mould. Or you try to give both your drivers equal opportunities and the fans an exciting sport, as Red Bull are doing in letting their drivers compete with each other. That is what makes this sport a crowd puller because they see the best guys in the best cars racing each other with a ‘may the best man win’ philosophy - and not mocking the fans with a collusive result. But I am aware that this is a topic where opinions differ.

Q: So is Fernando Alonso following in Michael Schumacher’s footsteps and taking a tight grip on Ferrari?
What they did in Hockenheim was against all rules. Either the rules are changed or everybody observes them. What they’ve done is wrong and they got an immediate punishment - and they will get a pasting from the (FIA) World (Motor Sport) Council, that is for sure. And that has nothing to do with Alonso. He’s no Schumacher.

Q: From the outside it appears that McLaren have the most balanced driver line-up…
Both Hamilton and Button know what it takes to win a championship and that every DNF is a little blow to any aspirations. So they wisely keep a respectful distance and until Budapest it had paid off with the top spot in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings, despite their car not being as competitive as the Red Bulls.

Q: What do you make of Mercedes GP’s performance? They had surely expected more this season after winning the championship (as Brawn) last year...
I am sure they are not satisfied with their performance so far. My advice would be to start to focus on next year’s car right away. I don’t think that we can expect significant improvements for the last seven races, as it is too late to change course fundamentally.

Q: How would you judge Michael Schumacher’s comeback so far?
Very mixed to say the least. Nico Rosberg is constantly outperforming him and he definitely has to work on that. It will be interesting to see which road he will take to get back on the podium again.

Q: The best of the rest for you? Any surprises?
No, nothing. Either you are part of the topflight, then you matter, otherwise I am not interested.

Q: What about the new entrants at the back of the grid?
The gap to the frontrunners is much too big - that has always been that way, and that will never change. I am strictly against having them on life support. Either they are able to stay alive on their own or ‘bye bye’!

Q: Who is your tip for the drivers’ championship?
Theoretically Sebastian Vettel. But he has to bring it in first.