Lauda lauds new Merc man as the Finn-ished prod­uct

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

VALT­TERI BOT­TAS LON­DON: Niki Lauda be­lieves new Mercedes sign­ing Valt­teri Bot­tas can be as fast as the man he re­placed, re­tired For­mula One world cham­pion Nico Ros­berg.

“Bot­tas is the best man (for the job). I be­lieve he can drive as fast as Nico. He can win the world cham­pi­onship,” the Aus­trian, a re­tired triple cham­pion, told Ger­many’s RTL tele­vi­sion.

“We can start the season in a very calm and con­fi­dent man­ner with the pair of them,” added the Mercedes team’s non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man.

Mercedes an­nounced the Finn’s ar­rival from Wil­liams on Mon­day, with the 27-yearold pre­sented as a quick and ex­pe­ri­enced team­mate for Bri­tain’s triple world cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton.

Hamil­ton won 10 of the 21 races last year but was beaten over­all by Ros­berg, the ri­val he has mea­sured him­self against since they were boy­hood team­mates in kart­ing and who won nine races.

The Bri­ton, whose first ti­tle was with McLaren in 2008, beat Ros­berg com­fort­ably to the cham­pi­onship in 2015 and also pre­vailed in 2014.

Ros­berg an­nounced his re­tire­ment last month, five days after tak­ing the ti­tle, in a sur­prise move that left Mercedes scram­bling to se­cure a re­place­ment with all the top driv­ers al­ready un­der con­tract else­where.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has had a long-stand­ing in­volve­ment in Bot­tas’s man­age­ment, al­though he said that will now end, and was a former share­holder at Mercedespow­ered Wil­liams.

Hamil­ton, 32, will start the new season in Aus­tralia on March 26 as favourite to take a fourth ti­tle but Lauda said the mood at the team was re­laxed be­cause they again had two top driv­ers.

“We looked for a driver who fits our team. Un­til now we al­ways had two top driv­ers who could fight for the world cham­pi­onship,” he said.

“Nico and Lewis were a fine ex­am­ple of that, be­cause they were fight­ing head-to-head.

“In the last three years we won ev­ery­thing there was to win. And this is why we de­cided to go with Bot­tas, as he brings ex­pe­ri­ence and speed to the team.

“Both driv­ers can push as hard as they want, as al­ways,” said the Aus­trian. “This has never changed at Mercedes and it will not change in the future.”

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