Niki Lauda has hit back at claims that Mercedes are still sandbagging, one race into their 2016 championship campaign.
It was rumoured that the dominant champions of 2014 and 2015 held fire on their full performance potential over the winter, and Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko charged even after Melbourne that Mercedes could actually have "lapped the field".
The suspicion is that, amid the political goings-on, a close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari will calm suggestions that the current 'power unit' era has been an abject failure.
However, when asked if Mercedes were really worried about being beaten by Ferrari in Australia, Formula 1 legend and team chairman Lauda is quoted as saying by La Repubblica: "I was very worried. We almost lost to them, did you not see it?"
"Ferrari threatened to win the race, there is no 'but' about it."
As for claims that Mercedes is exaggerating the closeness of the gap for the sake of the show, he answered: "Rubbish. The truth is that there was no gap at all between the two cars. It was only the red flag that saved our life otherwise they would have won.
"It was the most exciting grand prix that I have seen for three years at least.
"I think it was the best grand prix of this era."
Next up is the Bahrain Grand Prix on April 3.topics from