Lewis Hamilton has been set free according to Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda, thanks to his newfound rivalry with Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
Fresh from his win at the Chinese Grand Prix, Hamilton heads to the race weekend in Bahrain relishing the battle against Vettel who won the season opener in Australia.
Hamilton has made no secret of his disdain for former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, the 2016 Formula 1 World Champion who retired a few days after claiming his first and only title, by playing up his rivalry with Vettel, a four times F1 World Champion.
“The scenario I’m in right now – fighting against a four-time world champion – the ultimate fighter always wants to go up against the best battle that he can have. Because then when you come out on top, it’s just so much more satisfying,” Hamilton said ahead of Round 3 in Bahrain.
Lauda told Sky, “Obviously this is a shot at Nico. Now Lewis fights against someone who has won four world championship titles and of course he will play this up and enjoy it. That’s his right to do so.”
“I might be wrong, but I believe this new battle with Vettel has set Lewis free,” added Lauda.
Always keen to throw a spanner in the works, especially when involving Lauda, is Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko who believes that Vettel will out-gun Hamilton in the title battle.
He said of Red Bull’s former driver, “It’s a pleasure to watch [Vettel] fight again. I think he would have won the race in China if he did not have the bad luck with the safety car that came out at the wrong time.”
“If I had to choose between the two, then I choose Vettel for the title. I know him, and I know how you can trust him when he has smelled blood. He is also more connected to his car and his team,” reckons Marko.
Meanwhile – after three years of the often bitter Hamilton versus Rosberg internal rivalry at Mercedes – Lauda is thankful that Valtteri Bottas, the driver signed up to replace Rosberg, and Hamilton have developed a good working relationship.
Lauda explained, “Lewis is getting along really well with Valtteri. There is harmony between the two and they motivate each other.”