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Hamilton is pick of the Brit pack
March 08, 2007 18:39 IST
Lewis Hamilton will be the youngest and least experienced of four Britons on the Formula One starting grid this season but the most likely to win.
So says Damon Hill, Britain's last world champion with Williams in 1996 and now president of the British Racing Drivers' Club.
"Lewis is almost certainly going to win a Grand Prix this year," he told reporters at a Silverstone 'Back the Brits' briefing on Tuesday ahead of the Australian season-opener on March 18.
"There's a pattern that develops in Grand Prix racing and after a few years you recognise it and I think it has to be Lewis Hamilton at the moment who fits that template," he added when asked who was the most likely of the quartet to follow in his footsteps.
"But I know Jenson [Button] is not going to take that lying down."
Hamilton, 22, will be making his first Grand Prix appearance in Melbourne as team mate to double champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren.
Variously described as Formula One's first black or Anglo-Caribbean driver, his debut is probably the most eagerly-awaited of any in recent years.
Honda's Button, 27, took his first win last season in Hungary after 113 starts without success but his team have been off the pace in testing.
Red Bull's David Coulthard, now the oldest driver on the grid at the age of 35, won 13 races with Williams and McLaren but his chances of adding to that tally look increasingly remote.
Briton Anthony Davidson, 27, is embarking on his first full season with last year's tail-enders Super Aguri after failing to finish his three previous race starts with now-defunct Minardi and Honda in 2002 and 2005.
No other country has more drivers, although Germany also has four, and Britain has not had so many at a season's start since 2002 when Coulthard and Button were joined by Allan McNish and Eddie Irvine.
But it is Hamilton, impressive winner of the GP2 support series last year and a long-term McLaren protege who has been successful at every level so far, who is really getting the fans excited.
He has been on the pace from day one and is well-groomed by team boss Ron Dennis to handle the intense media pressure he faces in Australia.
"Jenson we know can win Grands Prix now and Honda are always knocking on the door," said Hill.
"But I think Lewis is in the right team at the right place at the right time. His only obstacle may be the two Ferraris and his team mate.
"I watched him in the GP2 race [at Silverstone] last year and you would certainly be daft to discount him as a Grand Prix winner."
McLaren, without a win last year for the first time in a decade, and Ferrari have been the big guns in the 'phoney war' before the first race and are expected to be the main contenders in the title battle.
Hamilton is unlikely to win any straight fight with his team mate but there could well be occasions where the Spaniard is sidelined and the youngster can take advantage.
Button, ecstatic last August to have secured his breakthrough win at last, had high hopes before Honda's new car hit the track but they have been thoroughly dampened by the testing times.
"It may well be a case that we look back at Jenson's career and say it was screwed up at the beginning because of being wrongly advised or with the wrong team," said Hill.
Honda's senior technical director Shuhei Nakamoto was quoted by the Autosport website this week as saying they are already planning a big upgrade for the second round of the season in Malaysia.
"At the moment we are ahead of Red Bull and Toyota but behind the rest," he said. "It will be a massive struggle to get into Q3 [the third session of qualifying]."
If Honda appear to be struggling, then so too do Coulthard's Red Bull with championship-winning designer Adrian Newey's first car for the team failing to produce instant magic.
Davidson's Super Aguri failed to score a point last season and their new car, although yet to be unveiled, is already contentious with rivals muttering about it resembling too closely the Honda that Button drove to victory in Hungary.
"We know we won't have the fastest car out there but it should be a bit of an improvement," Davidson told reporters in London last week.
"Hopefully we'll be in a position where we might be able to score a point or two. That would be fantastic for everybody and that's really got to be the ultimate goal."
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