Lauda puts Finn on Ros­berg’s level

New Straits Times - - Sport -

NIKI Lauda has hailed Valt­teri Bot­tas’s de­but for For­mula One world cham­pi­ons Mercedes as “in­cred­i­ble” and sug­gested the Finn’s re­tired pre­de­ces­sor Nico Ros­berg would have done no bet­ter.

Bot­tas started and fin­ished third in Sun­day’s sea­son-open­ing Aus­tralian Grand Prix, with his team­mate and triple cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton se­cond be­hind Fer­rari’s race win­ner Se­bas­tian Vet­tel.

“Bot­tas did an in­cred­i­ble job. First time in the car, fin­ished third, close up to Lewis. He could not have done a bet­ter job,” said re­tired triple world cham­pion Lauda, who is non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man and a share­holder in the team.

“We have the right choice,” added the 68-year-old, who told Sky Sports tele­vi­sion that the for­mer Wil­liams driver had been top of his list of can­di­dates to re­place Ros­berg af­ter the Ger­man an­nounced his re­tire­ment in De­cem­ber.

The 27-year-old was an­nounced as Hamil­ton’s team­mate in Jan­uary.

“I ex­pected Bot­tas, in a new car with a new team, with the help of the team to get quicker. He did all that. So the whole week­end he was a sen­sa­tion,” said Lauda.

“I don’t think he would have been worse than Nico if Nico would have raced here.

“It could have been ex­actly the same re­sult but he was the first time in the car, which I think was out­stand­ing,” added the Aus­trian.

Bot­tas told re­porters af­ter spray­ing cham­pagne on the podium that the race week­end had been a “good start­ing point for the jour­ney for me driv­ing for Mercedes” but felt he could do a lot bet­ter.

“I didn’t get ev­ery­thing per­fect but it was the first qual­i­fy­ing with the team and this track re­ally hasn’t been fan­tas­tic for me ever in qual­i­fy­ing,” he said.

“Over­all, I think not a dis­as­trous first race week­end with the team but I do have my points I will take, and I can do bet­ter next time and I look for­ward to that.”

Ros­berg, who beat Hamil­ton to the 2016 ti­tle de­spite win­ning fewer races, has said he has no re­grets about re­tir­ing but none­the­less kept a close eye on pro­ceed­ings in Mel­bourne.

The Ger­man posted pho­to­graphs on his Twit­ter ac­count of him­self, his wife and daugh­ter watch­ing the race from his Monaco apart­ment.

“Re­spect to all of you who al­ways get up so early on Sun­day morn­ings,” he said. “I’m ex­cited to watch it, first time in 11 years now in front of the TV, so that’s a mas­sive dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.”

He later sent a mes­sage of con­grat­u­la­tions to Vet­tel and Fer­rari.

Mercedes’ Valt­teri Bot­tas has earned high praise from Niki Lauda.

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