MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton sees Max Verstappen as added motivation for next season after recognizing Red Bull’s 20-year-old Dutch driver as one of the big threats to his bid for a fifth world championship.
The Mercedes driver, now Britain’s first four-times champion, is a big fan of the Dutch prodigy and said he looked forward to great battles with a resurgent Red Bull as well as Ferrari.
Verstappen, the sport’s youngest ever winner, celebrated his third career victory and second of the season at Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on Sunday.
“I want to be better next year, the challenge is even bigger from Red Bull and Ferrari,” Hamilton, still buzzing with excitement, told reporters after finishing ninth to claim the title.
”Formula One doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t stand still. And there’s always someone waiting to take my position.
“I’ve got that Max just sitting there waiting to take it. So I’ve got to raise the game another level in order to stay ahead of him. And that motivates me. I already have my motivation for next year.”
Hamilton hailed Verstappen as “an exceptional driver” and enthused about his race craft at the start on Sunday.
“You’ve got for sure a potential world champion within Max and he’s only going to get stronger with age,” he said.
“He’s a lot of raw talent at the moment and has got a long way to go but these wins, these experiences he’s having are only adding to his great potential. I’m looking forward to battling with that.”
Verstappen has signed a new contract keeping him at Red Bull until 2020. Sebastian Vettel has signed a similar deal with Ferrari.
Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes expires at the end of next season but he has been relaxed about what looks to be no more than a formality.
“It’s quite an easy process for us, I think,” he said.
“We’ve already got something great in place and it’s really just about enhancing it, working on what more I can do for them – sponsors or whatever it is for the brand – and vice-versa. I might miss Thursdays,” he joked.
Thursday is the day when drivers carry out the bulk of their media activities before a race weekend.
“I hope in the next month or so we’ll have had time to sit down. Now the pressure is kind of off, we can go and enjoy these next couple of races,” said Hamilton, who wrapped up the championship with Brazil and Abu Dhabi yet to come.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond