Michael Schumacher has offered a ringing endorsement of 2008 Formula 1 World Champion-elect Lewis Hamilton by insisting that the McLaren-Mercedes' star's level of success in the top flight 'speaks for itself' - but stopping short of saying he is the best driver on the current grand prix grid.

Hamilton travels to the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos next weekend with a seven-point advantage over Ferrari rival - and Schumacher's former team-mate and now prot?g? - Felipe Massa, but all are aware that nothing is done-and-dusted yet.

This time last year the Stevenage-born ace arrived in S?o Paolo holding an identical lead - and yet ended up missing out on the drivers' crown by just a single point. What's more, Massa will be guaranteed to have the support of thousands of his home supporters behind him as he bids to overturn the deficit at the top of the title chase and become the first of his countrymen to lift the ultimate prize since Ayrton Senna back in 1991.

Opinions are divided as to who deserves the laurels the most, but with nine victories, 14 pole positions, 22 podium finishes and an average points-per-race score of 5.97 from his first 34 grand prix starts, Schumacher acknowledges that Hamilton has had a startling impact on the sport in his fledgling F1 career to-date.

"I really rate him very highly," the legendary seven-time world champion told BBC1's Inside Sport programme. "I think what he has done in such a short time - just arriving, and competing last year with Alonso and being very often quicker - speaks for itself quite honestly."

The German was less willing, however, to say who he believed to be the best driver in the top flight at present - a mantle he himself assumed from arguably his grand prix debut back in 1991 all the way to his retirement 15 years later.

"I'm always a little bit concerned when we talk about 'Is he the best? Is he not the best? Is he better than Felipe Massa or not?'" Schumacher stressed. "I think you need to look at the circumstances, and they are not always very straightforward or easy to understand from the outside."

The full interview will be broadcast on Inside Sport on BBC1 on Monday, 27 October.


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