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Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi defend Max Verstappen driving

Niki Lauda backs Max Verstappen's driving during the recent Japanese Grand Prix.

Niki Lauda has backed Max Verstappen's driving during the recent Japanese Grand Prix.

Initially, Mercedes lodged a protest against the Dutchman's defensive move in his duel with Lewis Hamilton, in which Verstappen changed direction under braking.

The team referred to a generic rule forbidding dangerous driving, but Mercedes ultimately dropped the protest.

"This paragraph (rule) could be interpreted in all sorts of ways so it's worthless," Mercedes team chairman Lauda told Auto Motor und Sport.

"The two of them didn't even touch, so nothing happened. The protest would have been lost before it even began."

Lauda said that he would even have driven in a similar way to Verstappen.

"If I was him, I wouldn't have let Lewis past on the penultimate lap either," he added.

"For me, the action in Suzuka was much less dangerous than the one on the straight with Kimi in Spa."

Also backing Verstappen in the wake of the latest Suzuka controversy is F1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi.

The Brazilian called the young Dutchman "a phenomenon", and dismissed those who think that Verstappen is too aggressive.

"No, it's just his way of fighting," Fittipaldi told Italy's Corriere della Sera. "And it's spectacular. He will be a champion, for sure."

Next up on the calendar is the United States Grand Prix on Sunday.

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Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing puts his helmet on in the garage during previews to the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 12, 2016
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Saturday's key events

· Two-time Olympic gold medallist and comeback queen Helen Glover teams up with Polly Swan in the heats of the women's pair (12.30am-4.30am)

· Two-time Rio gold medallist Max Whitlock leads Team GB's charge in the men's qualification, while Rhys McClenaghan flies the flag for Ireland (2am-2pm)

· The first gold medal of the Games will be awarded in the Air Rifle women's final (from 2.45am)

· The men's road race should be a wide-open thriller, with Team GB among those going for gold (3am-10am)

· Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are among the names in action on the opening day of tennis (from 3am)

· Adam Peaty and many others get their Olympics campaigns underway on the opening day of swimming (11am-12.50pm)

· Team GB's women try to make it two wins from two against hosts Japan (11.30am)
· Netherlands and Brazil, who scored 15 goals between them on matchday one, face off (12pm)
· World champions USA look to bounce back from a shock opening defeat against New Zealand (12.30pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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