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Lewis Hamilton title battle with Max Verstappen could make 2018 Formula One season a classic

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 10/11/2017 Johnny Herbert
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Lewis Hamilton may have already wrapped up this year’s championship, but the rivalries are only just beginning.

Two races remain — in Brazil this weekend and then Abu Dhabi — and it all neatly sets everything up for what could be an all-time classic title race in 2018.

Any sense that Lewis might lack for motivation, having beaten his idol Ayrton Senna with a fourth world title, can be forgotten almost instantly.

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Already, he’s talking about his motivation — and it appears to come in the form of Max Verstappen. The last time a driver burst on to the scene in Formula One in quite the same way was in Lewis’s own rookie season and I think he sees his young self in Max.

You saw it a bit on Lewis’s face on the podium at the 2016 British Grand Prix; an expression that said, “Wow, this kid is going to be a big threat”.

He’s recently admitted as much — and what I like is Max’s response, which was to say that he didn’t just want to win next season and beyond, but to dominate. For me, he’s reminiscent in that regard of Sebastian Vettel. That move by Max in their tussle at Marina Bay was a move to dominate until Sebastian produced his Singapore sling and they both crashed out.

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What we don’t know, as yet, is quite what Max will be like in a championship battle. We know he drives on the edge and if he sees the gap he goes for it, but that can be different when the title is on the line.

I don’t buy the argument from some that he’s too young to win the championship. These young guys are better prepared than any other drivers in history, plugged into simulators at home and in the factory, with gigabytes of data at their fingertips to pore over. They absorb it all, analyse it all and they’re like computer chips loaded with data and ready to go out of the box — and fast.

Spice: Emerging talent Verstappen has already had spats with Vettel this season (Getty Images) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited Spice: Emerging talent Verstappen has already had spats with Vettel this season (Getty Images)

It’s very rare you see a special talent like Max emerge. It has echoes of Lewis and even Ayrton right at the start of his career.

But another fascinating part of the championship battle brewing for next season is Max against Sebastian. They’ve already had their spats and it adds a bit of a soap opera feel to proceedings. Sebastian’s desperate to beat Lewis to title No5 and to pick off that first title at Ferrari, so he won’t lack for motivation.

Suddenly, you’ve got three teams vying for next year’s championship and, to my mind, more than three drivers. Both Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas have points to prove and could force themselves into contention.

Then there’s Daniel Ricciardo, who is a brilliant driver. I love how he soaks everything up with a smile — and he’s bloody quick. Just ask Max.

As I say, I know there’s two races still to go this season, but I’m genuinely excited already about March 2018 and the start of the new campaign.

It really does have the makings of a mouth-watering F1 classic.

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