Lauda hits out at Marko over Vettel to Mercedes rumor


The 2014 edition of Formula 1’s ‘silly season’ is proving to be one of the most intriguing and frankly silly yet. Why? Because we’re already making predictions about the grid for the 2016 season.

Much of the driver market is thought to revolve around McLaren’s seats, with Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel just two of the drivers being linked to Woking. However, Vettel is also being chased by Mercedes according to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, even if Christian Horner says otherwise.

Niki Lauda has become the latest figure to chip in on the argument, and in his typical no-nonsense fashion, the Mercedes non-executive director has been pretty frank about the chances of Vettel joining the German marque as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton.

“We are already in touch with him [Hamilton] to renew his contract,” Lauda told Sky Sports. “All the speculation of bull*** Marko is absolute rubbish.”

Speaking to Sport Bild last month, Marko said that it was clear that Mercedes was chasing Vettel, saying: “Of course they target him, and they are not the only team. McLaren-Honda made Sebastian an outrageously high offer.”

With Hamilton closing in on a new contract with Mercedes and McLaren thought to be angling for either Fernando Alonso or Valtteri Bottas for 2016, Vettel does look set to stay with Red Bull for the time being. Although the defending world champions have struggled in 2014, team principal Christian Horner has no concerns about Vettel’s happiness.

“Well usually it’s the start of the silly season where he’s either going to Ferrari or Eric [Boullier] made him a big offer or maybe going to Mercedes,” he joked in Hungary. “So, we just wait to see which team it’s going to be.

“Sebastian is absolutely committed to the team. There’s no doubt at all that he’ll be with Red Bull next year and he’s enjoyed so much success with the team, he’s happy with the team and the team are very happy with him.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.