Lewis Hamilton has yet to 'reach the peak of his powers as a racing driver' and 'has the potential' to go on to not only match but even beat the records held by the legendary Michael Schumacher during his career in Formula 1 - that is the view of the recently-turned 24-year-old's new team principal.

In pipping Ferrari rival Felipe Massa to the drivers' laurels at the end of a thrilling 2008 campaign - crowned by a truly nail-biting finale in front of the Brazilian's adoring home fans at Interlagos, which quite literally went all the way down to the wire on the very last corner of the very last lap - Hamilton became the sport's youngest-ever world champion.

Now, Martin Whitmarsh - who earlier this month it was announced would be taking over the reins at McLaren-Mercedes from long-time boss Ron Dennis - believes the Stevenage-born ace can go on to surpass the achievements of seven-time title-winner and 91-time grand prix-winner Schumacher.

"He clearly has the potential to do that," the Englishman told British newspaper The Guardian. "He won't talk about it because he's too modest, and what Michael did is extraordinary - but with great champions you don't want to match it, you want to beat it.

"The key thing about Lewis is that he's still very young and he hasn't reached the peak of his powers as a racing driver. That must be very worrying for his competitors.

"I think he can do whatever he wants because the immense pressure he was under last year has been released. We should be in for quite a journey."

Meanwhile, Hamilton himself has expressed some concern about the lack of pre-season testing time available to the teams in light of the new ban on running once the competitive action gets underway.

"I have seven days in the car before the first grand prix," he is quoted as having said by Virgin Media. "Last year I had 20 days and the year before 25, so it's a huge cut-down, but we'll do the best we can and work with the engineers to try and get ahead of other people.

"With the limitations on testing during the season, and the few sessions we have over the next two months, this is going to be an intense time and absolutely critical for every team."

The nine-time grand prix-winner got behind the wheel of the Woking-based outfit's new MP4-24 challenger at Portimao in Portugal last week, completing 81 laps of the Algarve track and declaring himself pleased with the pace of the car, despite an early minor engine glitch.

"It was good to be back working with the team," he affirmed. "It felt like I'd hardly been away because it was easy to slip back into the routine. It's amazing to think that, while I've been to Woking throughout the winter, I haven't properly driven a Formula 1 car since the Brazilian Grand Prix two months ago, but everything very quickly felt normal.

"This first test was all about just getting used to the new car and the new regulations and about giving my feedback to the engineers - it wasn't about setting a fast time.

"I'm pleased to report that the car feels good, we've made lots of progress over the winter and I'm looking forward to developing the car ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. I've only been in the car for one day and our usual job list for the weeks ahead is already enormous. It's going to be an extremely busy winter."