Three-times Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart says Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes aren’t over but believes they are fading.
“The spirit in the company is terrific,” said Stewart. “The enthusiasm for the team is very, very sharp.
“More than at McLaren, because I went to McLaren the following day, it’s a much calmer, quieter hungriness than it is with Red Bull. They really are hungry to make it happen and I think they’ve got a good chance of doing it.”
With Max Verstappen leading Hamilton by 12 points at the top of the standings, Stewart said the title contest is still “open” but believes “Mercedes-Benz fell behind a little bit” this year.
“They did fall behind a little bit technology-wise. I think they are now realising they’ve got to do more. Verstappen is driving extremely well.
“I think for the sport it would be better that Red Bull won the championship, both for the driver and the constructors. They’ve worked hard for it. I think the spectators need a change.”
Stewart believes Hamilton can still win the championship but has been surprised by the seven-times champion’s pace at times.
“Lewis, of course, has driven extremely well, he’s a very talented and experienced driver,” said Stewart. “So I don’t think the fat lady’s sung yet. I think there’s still a chance for him to do it.
“But on the other hand, it’s always been surprising for me that his team mate, in many occasions, has been even faster. And I think at the end of the day he probably is looking towards the end of his career because he’s been at it a long time.”
Hamilton has been out-qualified by Valtteri Bottas four times this year, at Algarve, Monaco, the Red Bull Ring (Styrian Grand Prix) and Monza. Verstappen has only been beaten on merit in qualifying by his team mate once all year, at Imola.
Stewart described Verstappen as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” but also sees room for improvement in the championship leader’s performances.
“He’s, I think, sometimes maybe a little bit over-driving,” said Stewart. “I think if he backed off a little bit, he would be even faster.
“But he’s very skilled and Red Bull are very experienced and wonderful people. I was at the factory the other day and boy, they’re focussed. It’s impressive.”
Hamilton and Verstappen have tangled twice this season, at Silverstone and Imola. Stewart admitted he was baffled by their collision at the British Grand Prix, when Verstappen crashed out heavily.
“The Silverstone incident, with two top drivers, I just couldn’t understand that,” he said. “At the beginning of the race, trying to run against each other? Didn’t make any sense.”
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