David Coulthard has claimed that newly-crowned Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton can be spoken of 'in company' with multiple title-winners Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, suggesting the McLaren-Mercedes star has 'all the ingredients' to go on to match their extraordinary achievements in the sport.

In pipping Ferrari rival Felipe Massa to the drivers' trophy at the end of a tense and thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos just over a week ago, Hamilton became - at 23 years and 301 days of age - the youngest man ever to lift the laurels, lowering the previous record held by former team-mate and sworn rival Fernando Alonso by 122 days.

Coulthard - who ended his own F1 career in somewhat more ignominious fashion when he was caught in a Williams sandwich at the start of the race around the Autodromo Carlos Pace in S?o Paulo - believes that success will be the first of many for the Stevenage-born ace, who he argues will now go from strength-to-strength on the back of his maiden championship glory.

"It's fair to put Lewis in company with the likes of Senna and Schumacher," the Scot - a veteran of 15 campaigns in the top flight - told UK newspaper the Daily Mirror. "His results over the last couple of seasons are incredible. He's scored over 200 points and come second then first in two seasons.

"That's a remarkable start to his career. There's no way you can say he's not as talented as those guys, because we've not seen anything to suggest otherwise.

"It's academic to wonder which of the three is the best driver because we'll never have them all on the track at the same time, but Ayrton would have to be the top of anyone's list because of the cars he was driving, with normal gearboxes and no power steering. Michael is the remarkable driver in the sport's history, because he won seven titles and did it with such professionalism.

"Lewis is part of a new breed, groomed from a very young age. He was at McLaren when I was there, and we heard about how well he was doing in karting and GP2.

"He's got a long way to go before he's got the same sort of honours under his belt as Ayrton and Michael, but he's got all the ingredients to do it."

Coulthard elaborated that what separates 'the cream of the crop' such as Schumacher - with whom he duelled many times over the course of his F1 career - Senna and Hamilton from their peers is the lightning-quick reactions that they possess. That, he contended, is another reason why the sport's newest champion will only get better as he gets older.

"All you see as a racing driver is the next piece of tarmac in front of you," the 37-year-old explained. "You're thinking a lap or maybe a few laps ahead at most.

"When you see that the guy in front of you is slow out of one corner you think you'll try and set him up there next time, but the very best - the cream of the crop - can see a situation in a split-second and take advantage of it. That's what sets them apart.

"It's instinctive racing ability. That's what makes Lewis different, his racecraft. He understands F1 is not about how fast you can lap, but about the chequered flag.

"Your awareness of how to use the systems and make the right decisions more quickly is much better when you're older. Like in any walk of life, you know more when you're 30 than you do when you're 20."

The Red Bull Racing ace was also keen to warn his fellow Brit of the perils of committing his future to just one team - especially with all the changes due to be introduced into F1 over the next few years. Hamilton suggested in the wake of his title triumph that he could see himself remaining at McLaren for the rest of his grand prix career.

"In terms of trying to achieve wins it would be silly of him to stay with McLaren if the car wasn't performing," Coulthard told The Sun. "He wants to win and you would expect him to say that now because they're on top of the world.

"I don't think he needs to talk about the future beyond enjoying this world championship success and next year's bid, though. None of us knows what the future holds."


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