Former triple world champion Niki Lauda has offered his assessment of three of the F1 2010 title protagonists as the campaign speeds towards what promises to be a mouth-wateringly nail-biting conclusion – opining that Sebastian Vettel is like Lewis Hamilton circa 2007/08, and that for all of his flaws, Fernando Alonso remains 'the best driver' on the grand prix grid.
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza last weekend closed the title race right back up again as Belgian Grand Prix stars Hamilton and Mark Webber respectively crashed out on the opening lap and finished a delayed and frustrated sixth, whilst Alonso, Jenson Button and Vettel – all of whom had failed to score for various reasons at Spa-Francorchamps – took the chequered flag first, second and fourth. That means that heading to Singapore for the first of the final five 'flyaway' outings later this month, the crown-chasing quintet are all blanketed by just 24 points.
Whilst Lauda reckons Red Bull Racing remain in pole position to lift the laurels given the sheer speed of the Adrian Newey-designed RB6, the Austrian fears costly mistakes like those in Turkey, Hungary and Belgium will write Vettel out of the reckoning, suggesting the young German is committing the same kind of errors that Hamilton did during his own formative years at the highest level.
“Sebastian is very fast, but he needs time to learn not to make so many mistakes,” the 25-time grand prix-winner told Spanish newspaper El Pais
. “Hamilton has matured a lot [now] and makes not many mistakes, despite being incredibly aggressive. Today, Lewis is far more complete. Red Bull has had many ruined races, especially with Sebastian, but their car is the best and they're the team to beat. McLaren has been too inconsistent, Ferrari as well.”
On the subject of the Scuderia
– with whom Lauda claimed two of his three drivers' world championship trophies in 1975 and 1977 – the 61-year-old sought to play down recent remarks attributed to him criticising the team, reasoning that whilst the Hockenheim team orders row did leave him with a sour taste in the mouth, he still believes double F1 World Champion Alonso is the cream of the crop in the top flight.
“I don't have a problem with him at all,” he insisted. “First, from my point-of-view, he is the best driver currently in F1. There's no-one like him — not Vettel, or Hamilton, or any of the others. The only criticism I've had is when he was at McLaren, and now with the team orders at Ferrari.
“You can't do what he did after Germany — when he came out and said he knew nothing about what happened on the track. He tried to convince people that he had no idea what his team had done from the pit wall. That's all I've criticised.”