Niki Lauda says Ferrari has made a "very good" decision by signing Kimi Raikkonen for 2014
The three-time world champion says it will also provide a "kick" for Fernando Alonso
He warns managing Raikkonen and Alonso in 2014 will take "strong leadership"
Lauda says bringing Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes made "hell of a difference"
The man who made Formula One’s bravest comeback has given his seal of approval to Kimi Raikkonen’s dramatic decision to return to Ferrari.
Niki Lauda – whose return from life threatening injuries has been immortalized this year in the Hollywood film “Rush” – won his second world title for Ferrari in 1977, just one year after the fiery crash that almost took his life.
When asked by CNN’s The Circuit what he made of Raikkonen’s renaissance for Ferrari, Lauda, a man who does not mince his words, said: “Very good.
“It’s the right decision by [Ferrari president Luca di] Montezemolo because Ferrari has been behind Red Bull on the last four world championships, which doesn’t make him happy,” added Lauda.
The Austrian three time world champion also predicted the arrival of the ambitious Finnish driver will give a “kick” to current Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso – a suggestion the Spaniard denied ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
The Italian team will field the sport’s most potent driver line up in 2014, pairing Raikkonen with Alonso, the man they replaced the Finn with for the 2010 season.
Raikkonen raced to Ferrari’s last drivers’ world title in 2007 while the Spaniard has two world titles, won with Renault in 2005 and 2006, on his resume.
Pairing two ambitious world champions on opposite sides of the garage is a risky move.
It is also a departure from Ferrari’s policy of running a No.1 driver – a role Alonso held for the last four seasons – with a driver playing a supporting role.
Raikkonen has replaced Felipe Massa, who famously handed victory to Alonso at the 2010 German Grand Prix when the team implicitly employed team orders by telling the Brazilian over the pit-to-car radio: “Fernando is faster than you.”
Lauda predicts Raikkonen’s arrival will be a wake up call to Alonso – and one that should make the 32 year-old raise his game.
“With Massa and Alonso it was very clear that Alonso was the No.1,” Lauda commented. “With Kimi coming there, it will kick Alonso to go quicker.
“They are strong characters. It will need strong leadership from the top of Ferrari to keep them under control but for the team itself to suddenly get going, this was the right decision.”
Lauda speaks with some authority. “Rush” adramatizes his arch rivalry with flamboyant British driver James Hunt and the Austrian is now drawing on his own experiences of managing on track rivalries as a non executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 team.
The 64 year-old was instrumental in persuading 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton to partner Nico Rosberg at Mercedes from McLaren for the 2013 season.
Hamilton’s move was also considered to be a risk but it has paid off as he won the Hungarian Grand Prix, while McLaren is yet to score a podium, and Rosberg has also claimed two race wins.
Lauda says pairing two talented drivers within the same team has helped Rosberg and Hamilton push harder.
“I got Hamilton last year, I convinced him to join the team and he made a hell of a difference,” Lauda explained.
“Suddenly you have two drivers pushing each other and [who] have a good relationship, this is the most important thing.”
Alonso does not necessarily agree with Lauda’s assessment.
The Spaniard told reporters in Singapore ahead of this weekend’s grand prix that Raikkonen’s arrival in 2014 will do little to change his work ethic for Ferrari.
“The motivation will be always similar,” he said. “I will do my best all the time. I don’t think anyone will push me more than I push now.
“Two world champions - I don’t think that makes any difference.”
Money problems for Raikkonen
Raikkonen spoke to the media for the first time since being unveiled as a Ferrari driver and also rejected suggestions that he and Alonso would not be able to work together in 2014.
“I don’t see the reason why it wouldn’t work,” said the 33 year-old. “We are all old enough to know what we are doing.
“If there is something, I’m sure we can talk it through. It’s not like we are 20 year-old guys any more.
“I might be wrong – time will tell – but I’m pretty sure everything will be good. For sure there will be hard fights on the race circuits, sometimes things go wrong… I’m pretty sure it will all be OK.”
The Finnish driver, not known for his effusive answers when talking to the media, also revealed he decided to leave the Lotus at the end of 2013 because he is owed money by the team.
“The reasons why I left from the team is purely on the money side, that they haven’t got my salary,” Raikkonen explained.
“It’s an unfortunate thing but like I said, I want to try and help the team as much as I can and I like to race.”