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Exclusive - Niki Lauda's 2008 season roundup

11 Nov 2008
Exclusive - Niki Lauda's 2008 season roundup

After 18 races spread over four continents, this year’s thrilling world championship was decided in the very last corner of the very last race. Competition simply doesn’t get any closer than that.

One man who knows all about close competition is three-time world champion Niki Lauda, who won his1984 title by just half a point from team mate Alain Prost. Find out what Lauda had to say about the winners and losers of 2008…

Q: A week or so on from that heart-stopping finale in Brazil, how would you rate the 2008 season?
Niki Lauda: It was one of the best that I can remember. Three races to go and we still had four drivers in the championship game - from three different teams. That’s pretty unique. And the final decision was all about keeping cool on the driver side and, on the team side, having a car that delivered just at the right time. All I can say is hats off to everyone!

Q: The championship was decided in the very last corner of the very last race. In your view, did the right driver win?
NL: Yes, as the right candidate is the one who has accumulated the most points at the end of the season - and that was Lewis Hamilton. History has shown that it is not necessarily the one with the most wins or the most competitive car. Hamilton had the right package and as a result he is world champion.

Q: And what is it that Hamilton has, that gave him the advantage over Massa by one point? Skill? Team? Luck? What?
NL: As a matter of fact it is all of those. As I said before, it is the right package that counts, and all of these points together - skills, team and luck - enriched with the right sense of caution is what makes a world champion. You have to know when it’s the time to bet high, or to just hold on to what you have.

Q: Both Ferrari and McLaren had their problems to overcome. McLaren had to put the driver animosities and spy scandal of 2007 behind them, while Ferrari had to cope with the transition of power from Jean Todt to Stefano Domenicalli. Who had the easier task?
NL: Both teams had to work very hard to face changes and complex situations. In the end the spy scandal was more of a budget and reputation situation for McLaren, as they were able to go back to daily work and continue to concentrate on the performance and reliability of the car. Ferrari had to concentrate on avoiding a gap in leadership. Stefano was in charge of team management even before Jean Todt left, so he had to make sure the team held on to its performance. In the end both teams secured a world championship, Ferrari the constructors’ and McLaren the drivers’.

Q: Massa did everything right this season and some feel the team let him down, most prominently with the Singapore pit-stop debacle. Do you share that view?
NL: Well, not exactly. Situations like these happen in the heat of the race and have not been done purposely against Felipe. The team has to learn from such mistakes and make sure they never happen again. Of course, without these mistakes Felipe might have been world champion, but it does not make any sense to argue over spilt milk. Felipe and Ferrari will try again in ’09, that is for sure.

Q: Ferrari won the constructors championship by 21 points, suggesting that two equally competitive drivers are required to achieve this title. Is this something that McLaren were lacking?
NL: Well, Heikki Kovalainen showed some very strong moments this year and he also improved his performance and consistency. He is a perfect wingman for Lewis. At Ferrari it is always the case that the team concentrates on the more promising driver, and then when you have two strong drivers - as they had this season - then you will be able to get the constructors’ world championship.

Q: What happened to Raikkonen? He started the season as clear favourite, but it all went wrong with some pretty serious errors. A sign that he’s burnt out as an F1 driver?
NL: Kimi was just not able to maintain last year’s performance. Added to this was the fact that Felipe improved very much and was able to put himself into the number-one driver position. At a certain point it became very clear that Kimi would have to support Felipe to get the drivers’ championship. As to whether this is a sign of burn out, I cannot tell.

14 Nov 2008
Niki Lauda’s 2008 season roundup - Part Two

The 2008 constructors’ championship may have culminated in a showdown between McLaren and eventual winners Ferrari, but there were eight other names also vying for much-prized placings. Three-time world champion Niki Lauda concludes his analysis of 2008 for Formula1.com by casting an eye over the teams - and drivers - further down the order, and evaluates what each needs to do to improve their prospects for 2009…

Q: One team and driver combination that started out strongly before dropping off in the final quarter was BMW Sauber and Robert Kubica. What do you think happened? Did their early-season success leave them unable to maintain the necessary pace of development?
Niki Lauda: BMW Sauber had a very strong package at some races, and were able to translate the performance and reliability of the car (combined with their drivers’ skills) into results on the racetrack. But you could also see that they were unable to do this on tracks where their car showed a weakness in pace. Overall, though, you can see that they are on the right path in their development, and they can probably be as strong, or even stronger next season. I do not think that they had a problem with their sudden success, as the team has a very high grade of experienced personnel and they should easily be able to cope with success.

Q: Renault and Fernando Alonso followed the opposite path to BMW and Kubica - after a disastrous start they were unstoppable. Why do you think this was?
NL: For Renault it was probably a wrong direction of development, which always takes half of the season to correct as there are so many factors that have to be fixed once you go wrong. And what we have seen there is that they must have found the mistake and together with Fernando’s driving qualities, they were able to win again.

Q: Toyota delivered a reasonable season. Are they now on the right track with their car and their driver line-up?
NL: Both drivers did a good job this year, and Timo (Glock) was able to improve his learning curve and translate this onto the racetrack. The team itself now has to prove that they are able to maintain this performance and be able to score more points and some podiums next season.

Q: The most surprising combination was Toro Rosso and Sebastian Vettel. Have we seen a champion in the making?
NL: First of all congratulation to Gerhard (Berger) and the team - they did a fantastic job. Sebastian was able to finish races without any mistake and was constantly pushing to get the most out of his car. This is what it takes to be a world champion - and this is what got him to the top spot of the podium in Monza. It is very important for him now to get into a car that is able to win more races - frequently. With his departure to Red Bull Racing he will face a new challenge, as the team has to prove that they are able to give him a competitive car. For sure he is now on the radar to achieve a world championship sometime in the future.

Q: How do you explain the fact that Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso were running almost identical chassis, but there was a significant gap in performance? Was it the engine, the drivers?
NL: To me it seems to be a combination of both. For sure the engine is a crucial point in the performance of the car. The (Toro Rosso’s) Ferrari engine was way better integrated into the chassis because of its dimensions. Red Bull Racing suffered from this fact with the Renault engine. As a result, the drivers from Red Bull Racing had problems getting into the front in qualifying, and were involved in accidents at the back of the grid too many times. Sebastian (Vettel) was able to get the most out of the car, so he could concentrate on not making mistakes and bringing points - and a win - home.

Q: Williams endured a lacklustre season. Why is a team with 16 championship titles under their belts slipping down the ranks?
NL: They must have gone down a wrong road in the development phase of their car, which they where not able to correct during the season. They have very experienced people that have proved their winning ability in the past and the team’s facilities are state of the art. For them it is now very important not to suffer from the same mistakes next season. They have taken the decision to run a combination of young, promising drivers, over a more experienced line-up, so there was a relatively high risk that driver mistakes could also affect their results at the end of the season - and this is what happened.

Q: For Honda, it was another disastrous season. They have hired some of the biggest talent in the paddock, their drivers are proven winners - so what is Honda’s problem?
NL: This is a very difficult question. They just couldn’t get their car into the front in qualifying, and couldn’t keep up with the race pace of their competitors. In my eyes they still have a long way to go, and now the question is how long will it take Ross Brawn and the team to do it.

Q: Finally, somebody has to finish last and this year it was Force India. Is making up the numbers their only purpose?
NL: It shouldn’t be. The team had to overcome a lot of changes during the last couple of years. So far the team does not seem to have a clear structure, as the latest reshuffle shows. Now it is very important to get the best development out of their budget and find a way to show that they are able to create a stable package of driver qualities, reliability and speed. Next year they will again start with a completely new package, with which the team will have to familiarise itself, so another learning phase will start and this will also take some time.
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