Former Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz says that Lewis Hamilton’s main rival next season is likely to be Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rather than either of the two Ferrari drivers.

Nonetheless, Wurz is still backing Hamilton to come out on top and claim a seventh world championship next season.

“I think so, but it will be difficult because Max Verstappen will make life difficult for him,” he told German publication Speedweek.

Wurz took part in 69 Grand Prix races during his time spanning ten years in F1, which began with his debut for Benetton in the 1997 Canadian GP. He subsequently became a test driver for McLaren before switching to Williams.

The 45-year-old Austrian continues to remain active in the sport both as a driver coach and TV commentator, as well as in the World Endurance Championship where he is a two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner.

Wurz has tapped Verstappen for greatness based on the progress he and the Red Bull team made this season, in their first season with new engine partners Honda which ‘exceeded expectations’ according to the team itself.

“With the shape and current group dynamics at Red Bull Racing-Honda, he can become world champion,” said Wurz of the Dutch driving sensation. “I am most surprised by Honda’s enormous progress, which was very important for Formula 1.

“This is a great sign for sport,” he added.

Wurz was far from writing off Ferrari’s chances, and made a point of disagreeing that Sebastian Vettel was now a spent force in the sport and likely to retire at the end of the next campaign.

After starting 2019 as hot favourite to challenge Hamilton for this year’s title, Vettel ended up slumping to fourth place in the drivers championship and was even out-scored by his new young team mate Charles Leclerc.

But Wurz insisted that Vettel had already started to turn things around next year, and still had every chance of battling Hamilton and Verstappen to secure what would be a fifth championship of his own.

“Absolutely,” he declared. “He was low because he wasn’t comfortable in the car and with the tyres. But he was recovering.

“He moved closer to Leclerc and is hungry again,” Wurz pointed out. “I noticed that very clearly in personal conversations – that he still has enormous capacities.”

Most of all, Wurz is hoping that the top three teams will all be closely competitive on the track to make it a vintage year in the sport. “I hope Ferrari is fully involved and creates excitement.

“I was hoping for surprises [in 2019] and there were,” he added. “At the end of the season, no experts knew who was the favourite for the pole or the race win.”

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