Lewis Hamilton hails 'phenomenal' Max Verstappen as he closes in on F1 title

Sir Lewis Hamilton says Max Verstappen and Red Bull have ‘raised the bar’, in rare praise for his Formula One rival.

Verstappen has the chance to win his third consecutive drivers’ championship this weekend in Qatar, and will very likely do so in Saturday’s sprint race.

Red Bull’s RB19 has been near-unstoppable in 2023, winning 15 of the 16 races so far, with the Dutchman claiming 13 of those victories.

For many, winning a third title solidifies one’s place as a legend of the sport, and while Hamilton doesn’t want to directly compare Verstappen to past champions, he was nonetheless full of praise for the 26-year-old.

‘I wouldn’t rank him. I think ranking people is an opinion-based thing,’ the Mercedes driver told Sky Sports on Thursday.

‘I think he’s earned his position, he’s done an amazing job with the package that he has. Him 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, “ok, 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.’

Hamilton has rarely publicly praised his rival so much, especially since the pair came to blows several times while fighting for the 2021 title and the controversial way in which Verstappen pipped the seven-time champion to the crown.

The Brit won his third title back in 2015, moving him level with F1 legends like Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Hamilton’s personal hero Ayrton Senna.

‘For me, I didn’t think about the other champions. I just thought about Ayrton,’ Hamilton added as he reflected on his third title triumph.

‘As a kid, the dream was to get to Formula 1 and hopefully do something like Ayrton [did]. And then I got a world championship, then eventually when I got three it was very surreal to think I had equalled him.

‘To get as many wins and as many pole positions as him, that was what blew my mind for me. But then of course it does put you on the list of all the greats which is a very honorary list.’

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