By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – It is hard to imagine Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda being too happy about losing money, but there is one wager he must have been delighted to lose at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.
Lauda, a three-times Formula One champion in the 1970s and 80s, bet the German team’s boss Toto Wolff 10 euros that Mercedes would be beaten to pole by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
When Lewis Hamilton pulled out a sensational lap, the fastest ever clocked at the Shanghai circuit, to edge out Vettel and seize pole for Sunday’s race, Lauda was happy to honor his bet.
“Ten euros! He bet that we would be losing today and I said, no,” Wolff told reporters as he pulled out the 10-euro note from his pocket and held it up for everyone to see.
“I think he thought, ‘either I win money or I am happy about being on pole’. So it was a win-win situation for him.
“I’m going to spend it all tonight,” Wolff joked.
Hamilton’s lap handed Mercedes their 58th pole in 61 races and sixth in succession in Shanghai. It was also the 75th time the team had qualified ahead of the rest of the field, with Mercedes reaching the milestone in their 150th race.
Mercedes have set the benchmark in Formula One, sweeping to a hat-trick of drivers and constructors’ titles over the last three years.
But the Brackley-based outfit is facing a challenge from a resurgent Ferrari this season.
Vettel, who won last month’s season-opening race in Australia, looked close to securing Ferrari their first pole position since September 2015 – until Hamilton pulled out his late stunner.
“I made a bet with Toto, 10 euros on Vettel because he really looked quick in the car, everything was right,” Lauda told TV reporters.
“But Lewis, thank God, pulled out one of his special laps.
“In the qualifying we are still quicker but let’s wait for the race tomorrow.”
Rain is forecast for Sunday, which could lead to a chaotic race.
Wolff said that for Mercedes it will be a case of heading into the unknown because the team have had no experience of running on this season’s revised wet weather tires.
“We haven’t run the full-wet at all,” he said.
“It… hasn’t been tested. It’s completely fishing in the dark.”
(Edtiting by Pritha Sarkar)