Lewis Hamilton says future’s bright … but with two challengers

Written by Staff Writer by By Leslie French, CNN Much is made of Formula One driving virtuoso Lewis Hamilton’s abridged autographs tour this week . After meeting fans in Auckland, New Zealand, during the…

Lewis Hamilton says future's bright ... but with two challengers

Written by Staff Writer by By Leslie French, CNN

Much is made of Formula One driving virtuoso Lewis Hamilton’s abridged autographs tour this week . After meeting fans in Auckland, New Zealand, during the weekend he covered a wide range of fans’ mobile phones with autographs before heading to Hong Kong to sign a new Honda motor.

Indeed, Hamilton is fast becoming the biggest star in Formula One. When asked at the press conference about a couple of strangers’ photos clearly meant for the British racer he shook his head incredulously.

“I haven’t signed them yet,” he said, raising the ire of the press conference moderator.

In the past few years, Lewis Hamilton has become a regular at the auction scene for his autographs. Credit: A. Persson

Max Verstappen, on the other hand, has a fan base almost double that of Hamilton. “I think that people like him because he drives really fast cars, but he’s very nice. You can like him because he’s young,” said a spectator at qualifying in South Africa.

Although Verstappen’s 20th birthday had been less than a month ago, he has a following that goes well beyond the F1 circuit. Early in the year he took part in the Formula 2 World Championship , which continues to provide some exposure to his after-car pursuits. His arm tattoos have become a daily fixture on Instagram, and he regularly shares his sport with his fans.

This week at the pre-season test in Barcelona the scowling teen proved able to hold his own against veteran Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, garnering some critical praise.

Whether Verstappen can push for a podium spot during the 20-race Formula 1 championship remains to be seen. As he climbs towards the end of his teens, sport writers are beginning to ask whether the sort of ferocious racing style that has made him a fan favorite might make him the next Michael Schumacher.

Kimi Raikkonen has been the runner-up in three of the past four championships. Credit: Andrej Isakovic/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Europe/Andrei Alexandrov

Hamilton, his closest competitor, maintains that he is already an accomplished driver with a rivalry with Verstappen having been settled long ago. “I’ve been in Formula One for 14 years now, so in that time, I can say this — to have that rivalry with Max, it’s completely over,” he said.

However his comments in the South African paddock left some space for doubt. “When you look at the winners from recent years, they all appear to have won based on their driving style,” he said. “I think everyone’s quite different, so there shouldn’t be one player that’s going to come out as the new Michael Schumacher.”

Hamilton himself posted photos on Instagram in August with Verstappen and teammate Sebastian Vettel. The photos were taken at the Bahrain GP, where Hamilton took home his third title.

Lewis Hamilton, the Greatest? At 32, Lewis Hamilton could become the oldest Formula One World Champion ever. Credit: FIA/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In each of the past few seasons Raikkonen has been relegated to third place. Credit: Alain Jocard/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Raikkonen might prove difficult for any driver to dislodge from the title race. Credit: Matthias Hangst/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

“I’m sure he’ll achieve everything he wants.”

Considering that most of his competitors are men his own age, this claim might be a little dramatic. Kimi Raikkonen, the Finnish former Ferrari driver, is approaching his 35th birthday. Meanwhile, French-born Force India driver Esteban Ocon is 21.

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