Third in his first grand prix as a Mercedes driver, Niki Lauda reckons retired World Champ Nico Rosberg wouldn’t have done any better than his replacement Valtteri Bottas at the Australian GP.
Bottas qualified his W08 third fastest in Saturday’s qualifying at the Albert Park circuit and finished the race P3.
While Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel built up a race-winning lead on Sunday, Bottas closed the gap to Hamilton in the battle for second but was get within 1.8s of his new team-mate.
Nevertheless it was a first Mercedes podium for the Finn, who was drafted in to replace 2016 F1 champ Rosberg after his shock retirement.
“The biggest problem was that when Nico decided suddenly overnight that he was not going to race with us anymore, we were standing there with open mouths,” Lauda told Sky Sports F1.
“Then we had long discussions, Toto [Wolff] and I, [about] who should we take. Then for me, for sure we had the right choice, which was always Bottas, he was number one in the list.
“I went straight for him because we needed an experienced, quick guy. The young guy [Pascal] Wehrlein was for me a little bit of a risk because he did not have enough experience.
“We expected Bottas in a new car, with a new team, with the help of the team that he would get quicker. And he did all that.
“The whole weekend he was a sensation. I don’t think he would have been worse than Nico if he had raced here. It would have been exactly the same result. He was the first time out of the car, which was outstanding.”
Lauda was also asked about whether Bottas was told to hold station behind Hamilton as his efforts to close the gap to the Brit stalled at just under two seconds.
He replied: “No, no. I think Bottas did an incredible job I have to say. First time in the car, finish third, close up to Lewis. He could not have done a better job.
“[The rules are] all the same. Lewis is completely relaxed. The way Lewis started into the season, we all like it. They are both getting on with each other very well and we have absolute harmony and I think it will stay like this.”