Non-executive chairman Niki Lauda heaped praise on Mercedes new boy Valtteri Bottas on Monday and said he was a “very good replacement” for retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg.
The three-time world champion Austrian admitted he was very surprised to see how calm the 27-year-old Finn remained under intense pressure in the closing laps of his maiden Formula One triumph in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
“The first win, the first Grand Prix win, in a racing driver’s life, is always the most difficult,” Lauda told reporters. “I know from my own experience.
“I remember mine very well because Emerson Fittipaldi called me – who was the world champion – and he said ‘Congratulatons! The next one will come easier’ and it was true.
“I told Valtteri the same thing. His next one will come easy now he has proved he can win.”
Lauda added: “He surprised me a lot because it’s his first race victory under such difficult conditions with Vettel in a better combination behind him. Honestly, he did a fantastic job.
“I’ve never seen anyone like him under this kind of pressure to win his first Grand Prix. He can’t do a better job than that.”
As praise poured in for the unflappable and popular Finn, Lauda was quick also to point out that it was too early to talk about an extension to his one-year contract.
“We are talking about this year,” he said. “I want to win this year. We have had no discussion about next year at all. This weekend, Valtteri did a perfect job — all that we expected of him.
“And, for sure, he is certainly a very good replacement for Nico!”