by Russell Atkins

Former Formula 1 World Champion Mario Andretti has tipped Lewis Hamilton to follow in his wheel tracks by lifting the drivers' crown - and argues the young Brit could even do so in his maiden season in the top flight.

The American - who made a similarly sensational debut in grand prix circles by scorching to pole position on his first appearance back in 1968 - says he has been overwhelmingly impressed by the McLaren ace's form in the opening four races this year.

"What Lewis has done so far is just phenomenal," Andretti told Crash.net during last weekend's inaugural GPlive nostalgic celebration at Donington Park. "He was expected to be on it, but not as much as this.

"I think he is a rare talent, and that's the beautiful thing about it. Now and then you see talents like that surging through and it's just wonderful to watch. You can see he is enjoying it. Like he himself says, he is really living his dream."

The 67-year-old - who lifted the laurels almost three decades ago and has also tasted victory champagne in both the iconic Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 - suggested it would not be out of the question for Hamilton to maintain his stunning early form all the way throughout the campaign, meaning a title challenge is to be far from dismissed.

"I think it's very possible," he asserted. "Obviously Lewis is at the top of the points' standings right now, and I don't see him backing off at all. I see him just gaining more and more confidence, and for sure McLaren are capable of winning this year. They're looking good.

"I watched them at Jerez when I went to the test there recently, and they seem to have recaptured a lot of the reliability they were lacking before. Even last year they had the speed, but now it looks like they are reliable too. Both Lewis and Fernando Alonso are definitely going to be contenders right to the end."

Taking a more sweeping view of the state-of-play in grand prix racing in 2007, Andretti foresees a season-long tussle for supremacy between McLaren and Ferrari, with the end-of year drivers' honours going any one of four ways.

"It's quite a mix now," he underlined. "I think it's very unpredictable. There is some new excitement and interest in how things are going this season. At Ferrari everyone thought Kimi Raikkonen was going to take over as clear number one, but Felipe Massa has a had a resurgence of his own. The jury is still out in every possible way."

 

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