Lewis Hamilton says he expects Max Verstappen to be in the thick of next season’s Formula One championship fight.
Hamilton won the 11th Grand Prix of his title-winning campaign with a dominant performance at the final race in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and celebrated by going backstage at a Guns N’ Roses concert.
The Mercedes star, 33, will now appear in a series of personal and team commitments over the next fortnight, before heading to his traditional winter training base in Colorado. From there he will take stock of a remarkable season which took him to within two titles of Michael Schumacher’s record seven haul.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who Hamilton beat to the championship with two rounds to spare, will be among his rivals again in 2019, while the Briton has also backed Verstappen to feature prominently.
The Red Bull driver endured an error-prone start to this year, but ended it impressively, scoring five consecutive podiums, finishing third at the Yas Marina circuit.
“Max has been driving very well throughout the year,” said Hamilton.
“He has shown his consistency this year, and he’s been up here many times with us.
"If his team do the job and delivers a platform so he can compete even closer with us, then of course he’ll be in the fight next year.”
Many had expected Hamilton’s battle with Vettel to go down to the wire following Ferrari’s strong start to the year.
But the German fell away after a series of mistakes, and finished the campaign an eye-watering 88 points adrift of Hamilton and with just one win since the summer break, at the Belgian Grand Prix in August.
The rivals traded crash helmets after Sunday’s race, with Vettel saying to Hamilton: “Five championships is a great achievement, but I hope I stop you from getting more.”
He later added: “I am looking forward to turning everything off.
"I need some time for myself. It has been quite a difficult and exhausting year for me, and I definitely need a bit of a gap until next season.
“I don’t think I ever had any problems raising my hand if I made a mistake, so I have to review a couple of things that went wrong. Here and there, I wasn’t at the top of my game, so I have to look at myself. I can be better than I was at times this year.”
Hamilton will collect his championship trophy at the FIA’s prize-giving ceremony in St Petersburg, Russia, a week on Friday.