Date: 29th March 2017 at 6:48pm
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Niki Lauda praised Hamilton’s team-mate for his debut for the team in finishing third.

Valterri Bottas made the leap to Mercedes from Williams after Nico Rosberg announced his immediate retirement within days of winning the 2016 Formula One World Championship.

His late announcement left Mercedes with little manoeuvrability in the driver market.

Sebastian Vettel had a water tight contract at Ferrari and Fernando Alonso was stuck at McLaren Honda.

Other drivers had just signed new deals to move from team-to-team, but Lauda insists Bottas was always first choice.

‘The biggest problem was that when Nico decided suddenly overnight that he was not going to race with us anymore, we were standing there with open mouths,’ he told Sky Sports.

‘Then we had long discussions, Toto [Wolff] and I, [about] who we should take. Then for me, for sure we had the right choice, which was always Bottas, he was No 1 in the list.

Lauda believes Bottas is already on par with Rosberg due to his performance in Australia.

He added: ‘the whole weekend he was a sensation. I don’t think he would have been worse than Nico if he had raced here. It would have been exactly the same result. He was the first time out of the car, which was outstanding.

‘First time in the car, finish third, close up to Lewis. He could not have done a better job.’