Niki Lauda is never short of an opinion or three when it comes to the state of Formula One and the individuals within it, but the Austrian is not prepared to make any wild predictions when it comes to tipping the outcome of the 2009 title race.

Admitting that he was as taken aback as anyone who follows the sport to see Ross Brawn's resurrection of the Honda team running at the front from the start of the campaign, Lauda continues to back the Brackley squad when it comes to the expected showdown with Red Bull Racing over the final seven races.

Jenson Button's once-commanding lead in the drivers' standings has been whittled back to just 18.5 by Mark Webber, while Brawn's advantage is just 15.5 points with both Red Bull Racing drivers - who Lauda reckons to be the better pairing - scoring more heavily than Button and Rubens Barrichello in recent outings.

"Believe me, [Brawn's] success caught me with the same surprise as everybody else," the Austrian confirmed to the official F1 website, "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 in Budapest.

"You cannot trust anybody to win the championship - all you can do is observe how they perform. And, so far, [Red Bull] 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. That's why we are enjoying such a fantastic season. Ross [Brawn] has to keep up with his development speed but clearly, at the moment, they are the favourites for both championships."

Despite his admiration of Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, however, Lauda reckons there is one other driver in the field who would out-shine all three in equal machinery.

"[Fernando] Alonso is the best driver on the grid, and he knows exactly where Renault has its Achilles heel," he opined, "Whenever, due to track or climate, his car supports his skills and he is able to show that, he's in a league of his own. There are always rumours that link him with a team with a distinctively different colour code - and he will know what to do."