Lewis Hamilton’s recruitment to race alongside his friend Nico Rosberg has given Mercedes the strongest driver pairing in Formula One, according to the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
The 64-year-old Austrian, who took up his role with the Brackley-based outfit late last year, dismissed the claims of all rival teams including Red Bull and Ferrari after Friday’s opening practice sessions for this weekend’s Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
“You know I think very highly of Lewis. Everyone knows how fast he is – so fast that he sets a standard. But I think Nico is on the same level in speed and there is really no question about it – together they are really good.
“I think our combination of drivers is the best. No-one, no team, has a better pairing. That is what I think. Take a look at the others – Alonso and Massa, or Vettel and Webber – and it is clear to me that we have a stronger couple.”
Lauda stressed that the natural speed of Mercedes’ two drivers was augmented by their friendship built up since they were teenage karting team-mates.
“They are very friendly and they like each other and it all works. For me, nothing is wrong. I listen to them together. I hear all of it and it is good.”
Friday’s opening sessions ended with defending triple World Champion German Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber setting the pace with German Rosberg third and 2008 World Champion Hamilton down in seventh.
Both Mercedes drivers ended their involvement after being forced to abandon their cars out on track, Rosberg following a gearbox problem and Hamilton after suffering earlier damage to the under-floor of his car.
If this suggested a team in transition with impatient drivers, Lauda was having none of that – and he also dismissed claims that team principal Ross Brawn was disenchanted with his role and future prospects.
“Ross and Toto Wolff (the team’s newly-appointed executive director) run the team,” he said. “Ross is here and he is fully motivated and there is no question about him at all.
“He and the drivers are fully motivated in the team and there is nothing wrong at all. Everything is good and we are working hard. We have plans for the future and it has all been agreed with him.”
Those plans include the addition of technical director Paddy Lowe, who recently departed from McLaren, where he had worked with Hamilton. Lowe is currently on ‘gardening leave’ before joining Mercedes for 2014.