Lewis Hamilton has had an endorsement from an unlikely quarter ahead of this weekend’s championship-deciding season finale in Brazil.
Michael Schumacher, during an interview with BBC Sport, said he thought the young Briton is one driver who has what it takes to beat his record of seven world titles.
But he stopped short of proclaiming the 23-year-old from Stevenage as the best driver on the grid, a tactful move since he is still strongly associated with Ferrari, testing their cars and and occasionally appearing on the pit wall during grands prix.
During the interview, shown on the Inside Sport programme, Schumacher displayed a relaxed and friendly demeanour totally different from the one that characterised his dealings with the British media during his racing years.
When asked whether another driver could dominate the sport the way he did, he said: “I would say absolutely yes – because nobody thought, even me, that I could beat the five of Fangio. And then I did, and I even increased it to seven.
“Records are there to be beaten and I am quite relaxed. One day it will happen – whether it’s Lewis, Massa or Sebastian Vettel, or whoever.
“It might be somebody of the current or the future who will do it, I have no problem with that.”
His singling out of Vettel – already nicknamed ‘baby Schumi’ in some quarters – is particularly interesting. And he’s in a position to know, since the two of them competed together in last year’s Race of Champions event, and are slated to do the same next year.
The omission of current world champion and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen from that list might also seem significant – but Schumacher was careful to explain himself.
He said: “[Ferrari] have to protect him, in many ways, because in the middle of the season there were developments made with the car, and Kimi just simply didn’t get on with this one.
“The moment we went back with those changes, we put him back into competitive lap times.
“Kimi is only in his second year with us, so he’s still in transition time. Felipe is already quite a bit longer with us, so unfortunately we have to face those problems.”