Though he argues that the era when one driver and team rule the roost for years on end is now over, Johnny Herbert does concede that if anybody is going to dominate Formula 1 in the same way as Michael Schumacher did, it will be the sport's newest world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Between 1994 and his retirement in 2006, Schumacher claimed no fewer than seven titles in the top flight, with firstly Benetton and then Ferrari. Though Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso all took the fight to the German at different junctures during that period, none were ever able to truly depose him from his throne.

Whilst Herbert believes that F1 is now too competitive for one driver and team to achieve such crushing supremacy again, he suggested Hamilton - who lifted the 2008 laurels at the end of a truly nail-biting Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos - could well go on to repeat his world championship glory on more than one occasion over the upcoming years.

"At the moment yes," the erstwhile British, Italian and European Grand Prix winner told Radio, when asked if out of the current crop, the McLaren-Mercedes star is the man to go on to challenge his former team-mate Schumacher's records. "I don't see it being Kimi, I don't see it being Felipe [Massa], so as long as McLaren can keep the ball rolling like Michael was able to do with Ferrari, yes there is the possibility.

"There are others - [Sebastian] Vettel, for example, is a young, future star, but I'd be surprised if Red Bull get it right this year. [Robert] Kubica too has a nice future ahead of him; in the team he's in, he shouldn't have been as high up the ladder as he was. He was very consistent in the races and always there, but the car wasn't the quickest.

"We've got a couple of guys there then who I think for the future will be very good, but I do believe Lewis has a chance of doing what Michael achieved. He's younger than Michael was and he's achieved a world championship younger than anyone else has ever done before, so it will all come down to him working with the team, and they seem to have gelled because they've been working together so long.

"As we've seen before, though, it changes quite often - look at Ferrari before Michael turned up. No team has ever dominated like Ferrari did. You had the Williams years, the Brabham years, the McLaren years in the eighties, but it was always for about three years roughly - I think four was pushing it. It's very, very rare to have a team dominate for as long as Ferrari did."

The Romford-born ace was also effusive about the impact Hamilton's success is likely to have on the future of British motorsport - what he hopes will act as a significant boost in a country where home-grown drivers, no matter how promising, frequently struggle to garner the necessary funding to climb the racing ladder.

"I think you're always going to get this hype that comes with it," the 44-year-old explained. "He's young, and he's a good-looking swine as well, which is always a plus, so I think it will attract new guys and bring something new to the sport, like when Damon [Hill] won and Nigel [Mansell] won. There's always this kind of hype, even if you go back as far as James Hunt, when it was the playboy era.

"This country always seems to need that success to stimulate people to do it, that little spark to get things going. I think this one is going to have a longer-term effect, though, because Lewis is going to be at the top end for a good few years yet.

"It will be nice, because British drivers generally get it very, very hard - the European drivers in the past when I was doing it always seemed to get much more sponsorship, with all the cigarette companies. It was only later with [Eddie] Irvine and [Allan] McNish that British drivers got cigarette sponsorship for the first time.

"We've had the economic downturn around the world, but drivers will keep on turning up and there will be young drivers coming through - hopefully British - who will have a chance. There are definitely some young Brits out there that have a chance of achieving."

by Russell Atkins