Niki Lauda has never been shy about voicing an opinion. In fact, you might say that he’s a bit challenged when it comes to being discreet in his views. Years ago, when he was in his prime as a driver, he earned the nickname “the Rat” partly because of his prominent overbite, which seemed to strike people as rather rodent-like, and partly because of constant sniping in public about virtually everything under the sun.
He has lately released a typical rat-like barrage against Ferrari, in the wake of the Scuderia’s team orders (that weren’t really team orders, according to the brass at Maranello) that saw Felipe Massa give up the lead to team mate Fernando Alonso.
Lauda recently told the official Formula 1 website, “You have two models of how to race in Formula 1 as a team. If you approach it politically then you are in the Ferrari mould. Or you try to give both your drivers equal opportunities and the fans an exciting sport, as Red Bull are doing in letting their drivers compete with each other. That is what makes this sport a crowd puller because they see the best guys in the best cars racing each other with a ‘may the best man win’ philosophy – and not mocking the fans with a collusive result. What [Ferrari] did at Hockenheim was against all rules. Either the rules are changed or everybody observes them.”
It should be noted that Lauda won two of his three world titles with the Scuderia, and it’s fair to assume that during his tenure there (he was the second most successful Ferrari driver in the team’s history, Michael Schumacher, of course, being the most successful) traditional team orders were employed on occasion to secure the maximum result for the team. But here, Lauda can cite a technicality in his own defense. After all, during his day, team orders weren’t actually illegal.
Naturally, Ferrari has not taken this lying down. It does seem a bit like biting that hand that feeds…or at least that has fed in the past. The team has responded to Lauda’s remarks, stating on the Ferrari website, “After events in Hockenheim, a wave of hypocrisy swept through the paddock….The latest missive comes from Austria, from a person, who having hung up his helmet, has never missed out on a chance to dispense opinions left and right, even if, on more than one occasion, he has had to indulge in some verbal acrobatics to reposition himself in line with the prevailing wind. This time, good old Niki has missed out on a fine opportunity to keep his mouth shut, given that, when he was a Scuderia driver, the supposed Ferrari driver management policy suited him perfectly.”
While Ferrari’s intent might have been to chasten the Rat, it’s doubtful that he’ll change his rat-like ways anytime soon.