Lewis Hamilton has been anointed the 2014 Formula One world champion by Niki Lauda, after the British driver’s victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.
And Lauda, the Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman, said he is happy to see “warfare” between Hamilton and his team-mate Nico Rosberg – but only after the constructors’ championship has been secured.
Hamilton’s fourth straight victory, after he fended off a late charge from Rosberg, put him ahead in the world championship for the first time since 2012. He leads Rosberg by three points, after four wins out of five.
If Rosberg looked dejected after once again finishing second best to Hamilton, he probably felt worse a short time afterwards. First, he listened to Hamilton as he explained how he was struggling, and losing time, and how he would have to find it in Monaco. Then the three-times world champion Lauda said: “I would not know anybody today who could beat Lewis in the same car, because he’s unbelievable.
“Lewis Hamilton is unbeatable. It’s very simple to say. Because he’s getting better and better every race, he makes no bloody mistake whatsoever and he’s very focused. You can’t beat the guy.
“Nico tried every trick today to get him. And he did a good job, but he couldn’t pass him. Lewis is outstanding at this moment.”
But wouldn’t Rosberg find this assessment a little discouraging, Lauda was asked? “No,” he said. “Nico is aware at what level Lewis is driving at because they both drive the same car. And Nico will continue to bite, which for me is most important. Because if Nico keeps on pushing himself to beat Lewis, both cars will go quicker.
“Nico was pushing like crazy to save the tyres in the middle section of the race to be ready for the attack at the end. He did a very clever way of driving but the race stopped two or three laps too early. He would have got him, but not when the race was finished.”
It must have felt a little like Bahrain for Rosberg, who was placing Hamilton under increasing pressure when the chequered flag was waved. The two drivers were on different strategies, with Rosberg on the faster tyre for the closing stages of the race.
It was a close thing in the last couple of laps, when Rosberg cut Hamilton’s lead to less than a second, getting within DRS range. But Rosberg made a small mistake on Turn 10 and Hamilton, despite complaining about graining, held on.
Lauda then explained his view about the highly competitive racing between his two drivers. “My strategy is very simple. We let them drive from the beginning to the end. So far, nothing happens. I wish that this continues to a point in the championship where there is no third guy [no other competitor for the championship]. Then I’m completely relaxed.
“Then they can drive over each other, and whoever is surviving is the world champion. This is my dream. I want them to throw everybody off and then there is no enemy. And then it’s really going to be warfare.”
Hamilton went dangerously close to condescension when he said: “Nico did a fantastic job. He was very quick. I struggled to keep him behind and was grateful I was able to. I think I have a bit of work to do over the next few weeks.”
Rosberg was left to contemplate the poor starts that have plagued his recent runs. He said: “The start was unfortunately poor. It is a bit of a weakness I have at the moment. Three bad starts in a row and that has cost me. It is not good and we need to work on that. I wasn’t close enough but with one more lap I would have been. I’m a bit gutted.”
Hamilton’s first victory in Barcelona, his 26th in all, places him alongside four other British drivers – Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Jenson Button – who all won four in a row.
Third-placed Daniel Ricciardo was almost 50 seconds behind Hamilton, a measure of the work facing Red Bull, though Sebastian Vettel did well to get up from 15th to fourth.
Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, tried to seek out the positives. “The 49-second gap is a little artificial because we lost a lot of time behind Williams and it is about managing tyres to the end of the race,” he said.
“When we had clear air, we definitely moved closer. There is some way to go but we are definitely a bit closer. It is a significant gap to overcome but we have taken a step ahead of the Ferraris and the rest.”
There were no positives for McLaren. After winning two podium places in the first race in Australia, they have now failed to score a point for three races in a row, and that has not happened for five years. This was also the first time since 2008 that Jenson Button had not scored a point in three races. He said: “I had a terrible start and the problem is you cannot overtake here, so once you lose ground you cannot make it up. We weren’t really quick enough. I think if everything had gone to plan then we could have scored a point, but we are not massively quick. We did not get the strategy right either when he pitted for the last stint when we were trying to jump the other cars. We gambled on it and it did not work out.”
He must wonder what would have happened it he had remained at Brawn, which became Mercedes.