Lewis Hamilton's 'natural ability is fantastic' says Button
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McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo is backing Lewis Hamilton to seal an unprecedented eighth Drivers’ Championship title this year, but the 31-year-old has refused to rule out a remarkable triumph for his former Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has made a promising start to the new season, finishing inside the top two at each of the opening four races.
Verstappen was narrowly pipped to the chequered flag by Hamilton at the Bahrain Grand Prix, before claiming the spoils in the second round at Imola.
His British rival followed up with two consecutive victories in Portugal and Spain respectively, with Mercedes clawing back their early performance deficit to deal a strong blow to Red Bull’s championship ambitions.
Hamilton remains the overwhelming favourite to scoop this year’s end-of-season honours, but it seems as though he will face a genuine battle to retain his crown for the first time since 2018.
Ricciardo, who is a seven-time Grand Prix winner, went toe-to-toe with Hamilton on plenty of occasions during his time at Red Bull, and believes that the Mercedes star will provide the goods once again to cement his status as F1’s greatest driver.
However, the man from Australia admitted that Verstappen can be a match for anybody when the 23-year-old is firing on all cylinders.
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“We knew from a long time [ago], this was a matter of time for Max,” Ricciardo told GP Fans.
“A lot of people are probably tipping their hat to Lewis. He’s getting it dished back at him and he’s holding his ground and showing people who maybe doubted him why he is as good as he is.
“I think it’s going to keep going. Who will get the best of it? At this stage, you would always take experience.
“If it was down to the wire, then Lewis has already shown some strong signs. But then again, if there is a gap, Max goes for it, that’s why I respect Max a lot. So flip a coin.”
Ricciardo is still finding his feet with McLaren after leaving Renault, now Alpine, at the end of last season.
He has delivered a mixed bag of results from the opening four rounds of this year’s championship, but is widely regarded as one of the finest drivers on the grid and will be looking to challenge for podiums as the campaign progresses.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown has suggested that Ricciardo and team-mate Lando Norris could benefit from the power struggle between Hamilton and Verstappen, claiming that accidents will be inevitable when the Drivers’ Championship battle begins to heat up.
“Rivalries are great for the sport,” said Brown, who has overseen a period of significant improvement at the Woking-based outfit.
“Hopefully, at some stage, that will create some opportunity for us because it is only a matter of time until they are both determined not to let up into turn one and neither of them comes out of the other side.
“Lewis has had a pretty easy ride outside of 2016 with Nico Rosberg, so I think it is a great rivalry. Max has gotten Lewis to step up, not that he needed it, but he is definitely on his A-game.
“It is clear Lewis is a very smart driver and you can see him sitting there and waiting to strike. He is not over-eager and that is his experience coming through.”
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