As F1 2010 prepares to rouse itself again from the comparative slumber of its mid-summer break with next weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, former three-time world champion Niki Lauda has offered his evaluation of events so far – and those perhaps to come.
With seven races to go between now and the end of the campaign, the title tussle is developing into a thrillingly unpredictable five-way affair – with Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso all determined to be the one to lift the laurels following the Abu Dhabi finale in November, should the battle as is widely anticipated go all the way down to the wire.
Between them, the quintet have claimed all twelve of the grand prix victories thus far – though Felipe Massa should arguably be added to that list, Lauda's feelings on which can be read here
– and the Austrian legend reckons it is all shaping up to be a bahnstorming
“Still Sebastian Vettel,” the 25-time grand prix-winner responded, when asked by the official F1 website who he deems to be the standout performer of F1 2010 to-date. “What he showed again in Budapest qualifying in terms of sheer speed outclasses everybody – especially as team-mate and race-winner Mark Webber had the same material. Behind him I see, of course, Mark and the other usual suspects in this year's championship – Hamilton, Alonso and Button.
“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 has 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...
“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. 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.
“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 have 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.”
That, Lauda contends, makes Vettel and RBR the favourites to clinch respectively the drivers' and constructors' crowns, as he mused that whilst double F1 World Champion Alonso is still in the fight, the Spaniard is ultimately 'no Schumacher', adding that both Hamilton and Button have kept their title bids alive 'despite their car not being as competitive as the Red Bull' by 'wisely keeping a respectful distance', explaining that the British McLaren-Mercedes duo 'know what it takes to win a championship and that every DNF is a little blow to any aspirations'. And on the subject of Michael Schumacher's much-debated comeback to top flight competition this year, the 61-year-old characteristically pulls no punches.
“Very mixed to say the least,” he summarised. “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. I am sure [Mercedes Grand Prix] 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.”
Reflecting on the trials and tribulations of newcomers Lotus, Virgin and Hispania (HRT), finally, Lauda admitted that he is frankly 'not interested' in anybody not competing up at the sharp end of the field, and concluded: “The gap to the front-runners is much too big – that has always been the 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!'”