Mercedes Non-Executive Chairman Niki Lauda believes Max Verstappen can become of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1 should he develop in the right manner in the next few years.
There's no doubt the triple world champion is an admirer of the young Dutchman, who is already a three-time Grand Prix winner with Red Bull and was reportedly on the radar of the Brackley team for 2019 before signing an extension with his current employers until 2020.
But regardless of his current allegiance, Lauda admits watching the development of Verstappen since starting with Toro Rosso in 2015 and earning a rapid promotion to the main Red Bull team part way through last season, has been a joy to watch.
"In all my many years in motor racing, Max is the most fantastic young driver I've ever seen, no doubt," the Austrian told Globo Esporte. "Max, at 19, now 20, impresses me. He is aggressive, fast. The only thing I would tell him is to keep his feet on the ground, he has a tendency to lose control of himself, but if he masters those impulses he can be one of the greatest drivers F1 has ever known."
There are already murmurings his potential is leading Red Bull to lean more towards Verstappen as the driver to build the team around going forward which would come at the expense of current teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian, however, is under no illusions about the ability the man across the garage possesses.
"Max improved this year, I think last year he'd - I won't say 'come a long way' because he was always there but he's certainly improved and I think next year it's gonna be a lot of fun so looking forward to that," he said in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
The two drivers have built a sturdy relationship in the 18 months they have been together at Red Bull with their personalities off the track mixing well. On the track too, things have usually been mostly peaceful too and Verstappen doesn't think that would be impacted by the pressure of competing for a world title.
"I think so because we respect each other," he claimed. "For sure when you fight for a world championship it will become more tense on the track, but at the end of the day, you always come back to where you respect each other.
"You have to accept when one guy is faster than the other and I think that’s what we can do. Also when somebody has a good race we can really say to each other ‘well done, you really deserved that’ and I also think that’s important."
Next year could be the last year the two do team up with Ricciardo out of contract for 2019, but Verstappen is hopeful that will not be the case.
”He’s a great guy. Of course on-track you always try to beat each other but off-track we can have a great laugh," he said of the 28-year-old. "I think we really respect each other and to be honest I’ve never really experienced something like that in racing, to have such a good teammate to really have fun with. So I hope we can be teammates for a long time."
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