Lauda says Ferrari now ‘closer’ to Mercedes image

May 9 (GMM/ Niki Lauda insists Ferrari is continuing to close the gap to championship leaders Mercedes.

The resurgent Italian camp arrived in Barcelona with arguably the bigger update package, but Sebastian Vettel said after practice that he is not yet on Mercedes’ pace.

“The gap is still there — that is the bad news for us,” said the German.

“If we can keep this trend up that would be great, but four tenths is still a gap and it could be more than that.”

According to Mercedes team chairman Lauda, however, Ferrari has actually made up ground ahead of the crucial first European race of 2015.

“If we talk about qualifying then I think pole will be between Lewis and Nico,” said the F1 legend, “but we have only had practice.

“I think we need to wait for the race to make judgements, because I think that Ferrari is not far away still. In fact I think they are closer.”

Silver-clad Nico Rosberg, however, is not so sure about that.

“Ferrari is pretty close,” he told Spain’s Marca, “but we are still the best team, as we were in Bahrain.

“We are very quick in qualifying and they are closer in the race, but I think we can win on Sunday.”

But Lauda is talking up Ferrari’s prospects, amid lingering speculation that Mercedes is playing a political game to safeguard the current rules by artificially keeping the gap between itself and the red team within limits.

“I don’t think they’re doing that,” Mercedes-powered Williams driver Valtteri Bottas said in Spain.

“Ferrari are putting pressure on them and have already taken some points away from them — I don’t see any reason why they (Mercedes) would try to do that.”