F1 Hungarian Grand Prix: Niki Lauda denies Sebastian Vettel rumour as Lewis Hamilton sets the early pace

Lauda denies Vettel rumours in no uncertain terms as Hamilton races ahead

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The Independent Online

If Lewis Hamilton really was remotely concerned or destabilised by feeble rumours being put around here on Thursday to the effect that his Mercedes team was offering lucrative blandishments to Sebastian Vettel to drive for them from 2016, he showed no sign of it yesterday.

Hungaroring is one of his talisman tracks – he has won here four times since his rookie season in 2007 – and somehow it just clicks with his driving style.

He was fastest in yesterday’s two practice sessions for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix – albeit only by a couple of tenths of a second from rival and team-mate Nico Rosberg, who recently secured his own future with the team at least until 2016, possibly longer.

Hamilton received pithy and unflinching support from his biggest fan in the paddock, Niki Lauda, the triple world champion who, as non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, lured him there in the first place at a time when everyone thought he was insane to leave McLaren.

“Absolute bullshit,” said Lauda succinctly when asked about the Vettel rumours. “I can tell you that nobody from this team had spoken with him. Why would we want to? We already have the two best drivers. Why would we want to change that?”

Earlier in the week, however, the Austrian’s legendary candour had got him into trouble. The man who won world championships with Ferrari in 1975 and 1977, alongside sporting chief Luca di Montezemolo (now the Scuderia’s president), was obliged to apologise to him via La Gazetta dello Sport for derogatory remarks he had made in the wake of Sunday’s German Grand Prix when he described Ferrari’s current car as “shit”.

“I was wrong and I do not make any excuses,” Lauda said. Yesterday morning he also apologised to team principal Marco Mattiacci in the Ferrari pit here.

“Everybody is free to make comments,” Mattiacci said. “I have the utmost respect for Niki Lauda. For me, he is an iconic figure from my childhood, and in particular for Ferrari.

He came to our pit to apologise. I honestly felt very uncomfortable that I should receive an excuse from such a champion who has been put in the middle of something.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix

“It’s clear he is a friend of Ferrari, and again I have the utmost respect for Niki, so chapter closed.”

Lauda had the last laugh, however, for once again, Mercedes’ performance on the track was uncompromising. Ferrari, together with Red Bull, McLaren and Williams, battled hard in their wake on another short track where further work was needed initially to hone the cars to behave themselves without their now-banned front and rear interconnected (FRIC) suspension systems.

There was not a lot of grip either, as the track had yet to receive a rubber coating from the passage of racing cars.

But yet again nobody else was really in Mercedes’ league.

Hamilton, sounding relaxed, admitted: “We struggled with poor grip on track today. I don’t know if that’s down to the tyres or the track itself but it was quite bad throughout both sessions.

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"It’s going to be important to get a good grid position on Saturday as it will be difficult to follow cars on this track and it’s always tough to overtake here.

“We have some work to do overnight to ensure we get the best set-up for the weekend as we’re not fully comfortable with the car just yet, but our race pace looked OK.”