"Vettel is the top guy, [Lewis] Hamilton is the top guy, Alonso is the top guy, Schumacher is a top guy too," Lauda, who was champion in 1975, 1977 and 1984, told CNN.
"You need a car, and you need a driver. Vettel is for sure as good as Alonso is - but you need a better car."
What is open to debate is whether Red Bull's peerless car obscures Vettel's abilities behind the wheel or it hides his limitations.
Some of Vettel's F1 rivals are said to be of the opinion that he does not deserve all the accolades he receives given the car he drives.
Newey's response to that is: "I certainly don't underrate him -- if other people do that's their problem."
And former McLaren GP winner John Watson argued: "Vettel is a bright guy. Whatever the team provide him with he can capitalize upon.
"He understands what the car is designed to do and he can affect what it does on the circuit. For those reasons he is remarkable."
And anyway, Watson went on, Vettel is not the only three-time champion to benefit from superior equipment.
"Schumacher had five consecutive titles but that was in a period when Ferrari had influence on tyre development," explained Watson.
"Essentially telling the tyre company 'we want you to make tyres to suit our car and we don't give a sod about anybody else.'"
F1's dark periods
If Vettel's achievements over the last three seasons have aligned him with Fangio and Schumacher as the sport's only 'three-peat' champions, is it possible to judge these champions and their abilities side-by-side?
"You cannot compare 30 years back," reflected Lauda, who survived a near-fatal fiery crash at Germany's Nurburgring in 1976 before going on to win two more titles. "These are different times and different people.
"The danger involved is the opposite of today. [In the past] every year at least one got killed so you could work out when it was your turn.
"To drive on the limit and win races is the same challenge, but today F1 is much safer."
Watson agreed: "Fangio is my hero. Why I respect him is that he won five world championships in an era when motor racing was fundamentally a slaughter."
When Schumacher won his first world title with Benetton in 1994 it was also one of F1's darkest periods.
The German won the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 where both Simtek racer Roland Ratzenberger and three-time world champion Ayrton Senna lost their lives.
It remains as the last race where F1 drivers were killed.
Safety improvements over the last 20 years means today's F1 drivers no longer roll the dice against their own mortality as frequently as the brave champions of the past.
But Watson argues there is still an important lesson to be learned from Fangio, who raced to five championships in the 1950s.
The Argentine won four of those titles with different teams -- Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes and Maserati. His feat has yet to matched.
"My definition of greatness is not winning three consecutive times but it is winning in different teams," said Watson. "That is the judgement of a truly great driver.
"To move from team to team, to be able to build that team around you, to bring leadership and ability as Fangio did, that is why he is just the greatest all-time F1 driver."
As Christian Horner reeled off the names of other three-time world champions on Vettel's slow-down lap in Sao Paulo, Vettel revealed the Red Bull team boss had forgotten to mention Alain Prost.