Former grand prix driver Jonathan Palmer has suggested Felipe Massa's performances at times during the 2008 Formula 1 campaign have not been 'the sign of a world champion' - as he instead tipped Massa's McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton to prevail come season's end.

Whilst acknowledging that Massa has considerably raised his game this year - particularly in relation to under-performing Ferrari team-mate and defending title-winner Kimi Raikkonen - Palmer points out that the Brazilian is still displaying streaks of inconsistency in his driving, singling out the 27-year-old's five spins at a rain-lashed Silverstone back in the summer and his seeming loss of fight and motivation in the wake of the Scuderia's calamitous pit-stop during the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix last time out.

"It has to be Hamilton," Palmer responded, when asked by Crash.net Radio who he believes will lift the laurels this year. "I think certainly Felipe Massa has put in some great drives, but to my mind his season has been blemished by some pretty poor showings too.

"The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was a very mediocre performance, and whilst he qualified superbly in Singapore, following the undoubted and understandable stress of the catastrophe with the fuel hose he appeared not to be able to keep his head together and he wasn't able to recover from that. He has just made a few too many mistakes, and that's not the sign of a world champion."

One man the 51-year-old clearly believes does possess the ability to be a potential future F1 World Champion, though, is Sebastian Vettel, who became the sport's youngest-ever grand prix winner and pole position-holder when he sensationally and totally against the grain triumphed for Scuderia Toro Rosso at Monza last month.

A long-time champion of young drivers through his eponymous Formula Palmer Audi venture, Palmer's company MotorSport Vision will similarly run the new, low-cost FIA Formula Two Championship when the traditional F1 feeder series returns in 2009 [see separate story - click here].

"Obviously Vettel winning at Monza, being on pole position, leading all the way through [and] not putting a foot wrong was a tremendous testimony to the skills of young drivers in Formula 1," the former Zakspeed, Williams and Tyrrell ace asserted. "If that had been a performance that had been carried out by, shall we say, Kimi Raikkonen, people would have said 'well that's why you need an experienced driver; you can't take somebody young'.

"In recent races, though, we've had Kimi Raikkonen making the kind of mistakes you'd expect a youngster to, and people like Vettel driving with a level of maturity that you'd expect multiple world champions like [Fernando] Alonso to. It just shows that the young talent can do the job, and I think that's very exciting for the prospects of Formula Two as well.

"We are going to see Formula 1 teams looking much more closely at exciting young talent; they're arguably better than some of the current drivers teams are running. These drivers are young, they're hungry, they're very determined and extremely motivated, and fundamentally they're very cheap as well. I think it's a tremendously exciting time for Formula 1."

by Russell Atkins

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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