Nico Rosberg has warned his former Mercedes teammate turned, Lewis Hamilton that Max Verstappen is coming for his Formula 1 records and declared that the pair are the best drivers on the current Formula 1 grid.
Verstappen, who turned 25 on Friday, will have his first shot at sealing back-to-back world championships at Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix – with five of the 22-round campaign still remaining.
Verstappen will be crowned champion if he wins and sets the fastest lap, and team-mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finish lower than fourth and eighth respectively.
Hamilton, who was controversially denied an unprecedented eighth crown at last year’s finale, holds the record of most wins (103) and, alongside Michael Schumacher, has a record seven titles. But Verstappen’s next race win will take him to 32, sixth on the all-time list alongside Fernando Alonso.
And Rosberg, speaking to the PA news agency, said: “With his skill and the way Red Bull are going at the moment, it is not out of the question that Max could get near Lewis’ records.
“Max was incredible last year, and he has continued that form this season. He has removed the errors that he had in the beginning of his career, and he has dialled back on the overly aggressive moments, too. It is a similar process that Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna went through in their early careers when they started fighting for championships.
“Together with Lewis, Max is the best driver on the grid. It is going to be an incredible decade for him in the sport,” declared the 2016 F1 World Champion.
Rosberg: Insiders at Mercedes tell me Lewis is super motivated
Following a major overhaul in the regulations, Hamilton and his inferior Mercedes have been no match for Verstappen this term. amilton is a staggering 167 points behind Verstappen and is facing the prospect of ending a campaign without a win for the first time in his career.
Hamilton is 38 in January, and his £40-million-a-year deal with Mercedes is due to expire at the end of next season. But Rosberg believes Hamilton’s barren run will provide cause for him to continue, rather than lead to him hanging up his helmet.
“When I look at how motivated Lewis is – and I am hearing that from people within Mercedes – that is special because it is so easy for someone like that with so much success to say, ‘what the hell, I cannot be bothered anymore’,” he said.
“But he is so engaged by what he is doing – not because of retirement that he wants to avoid but because of the new challenge and the dream of getting that eighth title and the belief that Mercedes can take him there, which they can.
“Does it surprise me? After winning seven titles and so many years in the sport with so much money in the bank account, the fact he would still have that motivation wouldn’t necessarily be expected.
“But driving-wise, he is as on it as ever. Fernando is 41, and at moments this year he has been at his best. Only the most special talents are able to do it, so who knows how much longer Lewis can go on? Maybe we can enjoy him being in F1 for many more years.”
Nico and Lewis continue their rivalry in the Extreme E series, but as team owners
Rosberg, now 37, retired from F1 within days of beating long-term rival Hamilton to the 2016 title.
His rivalry with Hamilton has now moved to Extreme E with both men owning teams in the off-road electric series which highlights environmental issues at venues across the world. Each driver line-up must also consist of one male and one female.
“To be fighting Lewis year in, year out is super-cool,” said Rosberg, whose team are on course to defend the title they won last year.
“He is really interested and hands-on behind the scenes. I am involved because this combines my passion for racing, sustainability and equality. I enjoy using the platform to push those topics,” added Rosberg.