Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Hamilton praises phenomenal Verstappen for ‘raising the bar’


LEWIS Hamilton has praised his erstwhile title rival Max Verstappen for “raising the bar” this season, and added his voice to those who support the American Andretti team’s bid to enter Formula One.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, where Red Bull’s Verstappen is poised to clinch his third consecutiv­e title, the seven-time champion said the Dutchman had had a phenomenal and faultless year.

“I wouldn’t rank him,” said the Mercedes driver, when asked to do just that.

“I think ranking people is an opinion-based thing. But I do think he’s earned his position, and he’s done an amazing job with the package that he has.

“He and the team have been phenomenal this year. Faultless. And I think they’ve raised the bar.

“As a team, we have to look at that and say ‘Okay, these are the areas that we need to develop to be able to match that and compete’.

“I do hope at some stage we can fight them and actually have them in a defending position, but they should definitely enjoy the moment, because they’ve worked for it.”

Verstappen requires just three points to seal another title triumph and is expected to do that with some ease in today’s sprint race at the Lusail Internatio­nal Circuit.

He has very rarely received praise from Hamilton since their ferocious rivalry during the 2021 season, when some unexpected decisions by officials at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix appeared to deprive the Briton of an eighth title in controvers­ial fashion as Verstappen claimed victory.

On Thursday, Hamilton also voiced his approval for another American team joining the grid as the entry from Andretti Cadillac Racing faces examinatio­n by Formula One’s commercial rights owners after being approved by ruling body the Internatio­nal Motoring Federation.

Many of the current 10 teams are understood to be in opposition to a new entry because it would dilute their revenue from prize money distributi­on.

But Hamilton said: “I think it’s great. I’ve always felt that there weren’t enough cars on the grid. There are definitely people who won’t be happy for me to be supportive of it, but I think it’s great.

“It’s an opportunit­y for more jobs. There’s an opportunit­y for another two seats available for a potential female driver to come through.”

Hamilton also spoke of his support for the LGBTQ+ community as he demonstrat­ed in 2021, when he won the only previous and inaugural race in Qatar, where same-sex relationsh­ips are illegal, wearing a helmet with the Progress Pride flag on it.

“I was proud in 2021, but it was also nerve-wracking because I didn’t know how the country would react,” he said.

“It’s such a big machine to shift. It’s a whole country that’s very young, and particular­ly in this part of the world.”

Qatar’s event this weekend is the first in a 10-year contract.

Meanwhile, two-time champion Fernando Alonso divided opinions in the paddock when he suggested that Verstappen was Formula One’s best driver since Michael Schumacher, overlookin­g Hamilton’s achievemen­ts.

Speaking to reporters, when asked if Verstappen deserved a place among the sport’s modern greats, the 42-year-old Spaniard said: “I’ve only been wheel-towheel with Michael, but with Michael maybe, yes.

“And for the next few years, he will keep adding championsh­ips, so we will compare him with Michael even closer in the future.”

Alonso’s omission of Hamilton raised eyebrows, but was no great surprise as the pair endured a highly-strained season as teammates at McLaren in 2007, Hamilton’s rookie year.

“Michael’s achievemen­ts were incredible,” said Verstappen.

“But when he was achieving these kinds of things, it was seen as normal because it was an amazing driver, with an amazing team and everything came together.”

 ?? ?? LEWIS Hamilton celebrates with Max Verstappen on the Spanish Grand Prix podium earlier this year after the latter emerged victorious at the at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. | SIU WU EPA
LEWIS Hamilton celebrates with Max Verstappen on the Spanish Grand Prix podium earlier this year after the latter emerged victorious at the at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. | SIU WU EPA

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