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Lewis Hamilton’s former McLaren boss Ron Dennis has tipped Max Verstappen to win his first world championship title this season, despite heavy links with the seven-time world champion.
Verstappen currently has a five-point lead heading into round 15 at the Russian Grand Prix over Hamilton with eight races remaining of the season.
It’s been the first season since 2013 that Red Bull have produced a potentially championship-winning car, and Dennis believes it could be a formula that sees them take the title over Mercedes.
“I have a tremendous respect for the technologists at Red Bull and I think Honda has stabilised their engine performance very well,” Dennis told Sky Sports. “So I think it’s going to be Verstappen.
“If it’s not, it will be not because they lack performance, but because they make mistakes. And the question is in what circumstances are these mistakes going to be made? So it’s going to be a very colourful end of season, but I’d probably back Verstappen.
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“That’s not for any reason that I don’t favour Lewis. Of course, he’s still a friend. I still occasionally communicate with him.”
Hamilton is looking to become the most decorated Formula One driver in history as he chases down his eighth world title this season, whereas Verstappen hasn’t yet been part of a championship-winning setup.
However, the Dutchman has led the way for the first time in his career this season for Red Bull, alongside his new team-mate Sergio Perez.
Yet Hamilton says he empathises with his rival’s eagerness to win his first title this year, despite the two crashing out of the race last time out at Monza.
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Lewis Hamilton empathises with Max Verstappen
The Briton told Sky Sports: “I know the pressure that comes with it and the experiences that go with it. Your eagerness… you go through lots of different experiences and emotions during that time.
“He won’t admit to it and I’m not going to make an assumption, I’m just saying that I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up.”
Hamilton will be looking to close the gap on Verstappen at Sochi, with the two set to go wheel-to-wheel again.
Hamilton hopes his experience can edge him ahead in the title battle this season.
“Time will tell, I will hope so,” added the 36-year-old. “And of course it’s been an incredibly difficult year, It’s not been smooth sailing in terms of performance, as a team with the car and everything.
“I mean I hope so, and there’s been a lot of learnings in the course of these first 12 or 13 races we’ve had.
“So, yeah, I hope we see that moving forward.”
The tense championship battle continues on Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix, with Mercedes leading the way in the constructors by 18 points.
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