Niki Lauda is of the view that Valtteri Bottas will provide Mercedes with the same level of competitiveness Nico Rosberg did when he partnered Lewis Hamilton for the last three years. The Silver Arrows team have dominated Formula One winning both the constructors and drivers titles for three consecutive years.
The Austrian former F1 world champion was livid after Rosberg announced his retirement just five days after he won the 2016 drivers championship. The Mercedes team were left in a compromising situation in their search for a replacement as all the top drivers were committed to their respective teams.
Lauda admitted that there was commotion within the team as they went about looking for a replacement. They announced the signing of Bottas on Monday (16 January), and the Mercedes team's non-executive director admitted that he is now relaxed and looking forward to the start of the 2017 campaign.
The 67-year-old also made it clear that Mercedes' philosophy of allowing their drivers to race on an equal footing will not change going into the new season. Rosberg and Hamilton were given freedom to race each other on-track during their battles and the Finn will have a similar licence to challenge the Briton for wins and championships, without fear of there being a hierarchy in the driver line-up.
"The commotion after we lost Nico has gone completely. I'm very relaxed now because I believe with Bottas we again have an equal driver pairing like last year," Lauda told German broadcaster RTL, as quoted by Autosport.
"We looked for a driver who fits our team. Until now we always had two top drivers who were able to fight for the world championship.
"Nico and Lewis were a fine example of that, because they were fighting head-to-head. Sometimes one was in front, sometimes the other. In the last three years we won everything there was to win," he explained.
"Bottas is the best man - I believe he can drive similarly as fast as Nico."
"As always: both drivers can push as much as they want, completely free. This never has changed at Mercedes and it won't change in the future.
"We talked to Lewis and explained to him that Bottas will be driving alongside him. Lewis doesn't have an issue with that and neither does Bottas - we can go calmly into the season with these two drivers," the three-time F1 drivers' champion added.