Valtteri Bottas may be second in the championship, but his last race victory came in Azerbaijan, while Verstappen claimed wins in Austria and Germany, making him the most likely challenger to Hamilton in the second half of the season if Red Bull’s momentum continues. Leclerc has found it difficult in 2019, like Ferrari as a whole, but was unlucky not to win in Bahrain when an engine failure cost him the victory at the death.
The Dutchman’s recent battles with Hamilton have been mesmerising, and the five-time world champion has praised his rival for his maturity as a driver despite his younger years.
“We’ve seen a big step with Red Bull. They’ve really taken a leap forward with their [Honda] power unit this year and it’s pretty great to see,” Hamilton told the official Formula 1 website.
“They’re going to go from strength to strength and Max is naturally just... he’s not a youngster necessarily in the sport anymore. While he’s young, he’s been here for a few years.”
The Brit thinks that Leclerc, meanwhile, is only going to get better, and has backed him to find his feet when Ferrari find theirs as a team.
“Charles is only in his second season, so he’s grown and I can only see him getting stronger and we’re already seeing some great performances from him this season and that one is definitely one to watch out for," Hamilton continued.
"Whether or not Ferrari are going to pick up their pace, I don’t know. They’re kind of up and down at the moment – last year I think it was quite close between three of us, I think Ferrari were slightly quicker. I hope it’s close, and I hope it gets closer through the year."
As for any future championship fights against the young duo, Hamilton says he is “always down” for being challenged, as he has the best team on the grid working with him.
“I’m always down, I’m always ready,” he assured.
“It’s just not been the case, it’s the case every year – we’re a pretty strong team – and again we just work so well, we’ve got the best teamwork and processes. It goes back to the guys who are janitors at the factory to machine shop to here to the catering to the garage to the drivers.
“The communication and the environment – there’s no better – and that shows weekend-in and weekend-out.”
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