Red Bull's Verstappen currently holds a five-point advantage over seven-time world champion Hamilton heading into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, the 15th round of what is scheduled to be a 22-race season.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Dennis backed Verstappen to prevail to his maiden F1 drivers’ title over his former protege Hamilton, who missed out on winning the championship in his rookie season with McLaren in 2007 by just one point.

"I have a tremendous respect for the technologists at Red Bull and I think Honda have stabilised their engine performance very well,” said Dennis, who left McLaren in 2017 after 37 years at the helm. "So I think it's going to be Verstappen.

“If it's not, it will be not because they lack performance but because they make mistakes.

“The question is, in what circumstances are these mistakes going to be made? It's going to be a very colourful end of season but I would probably back Verstappen.

“That’s not for any reason that I don’t favour Lewis. Of course, he’s still a friend. I still occasionally communicate with him.”

Dennis said the rivalry between Verstappen and Hamilton is “fantastic” for F1 but has backed both drivers to remain professional throughout, despite their on-track collisions.

“The media hypes it up but they are constantly throwing water onto the fire,” he added. “They’re trying to calm things down, they're true professionals.

"In many sports, there is a professional foul. In motor racing, the consequences of cars touching each other is hard to predict - you don't know if one car is going to ride over on the other, like in the Italian GP, or you don't know if you're going to spin off and hit a barrier.

"The reality is these two drivers are absolutely professional, they know what they're doing and they know getting into the lead early on during the race is critical. And so that’s when they really take risks.

“Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn't, and one thing that both of them doesn't want to show the other is that they are going to back off, that they are going to be intimidated. It's a couple of young stags rutting. It’s as simple as that.”

And Dennis believes the 2021 title fight will ultimately be decided on pure driver skill given how reliable modern F1 cars are.

"No one likes losing so [Lewis] won’t be at all happy about being behind the game, but his motivation and any top driver's motivation is enhanced by having to fight,” Dennis explained.

"Fighting in a grand prix car is extremely knife-edge - if you are too aggressive with the car, you will destroy the tyres too quickly, you will determine the outcome of the race very, very early on because whilst it all looks very close, the reality is when a car is behind another he will have a much greater challenge at looking after his tyres.

"Engines and everything are so reliable now that it is between two gladiators and the outcome is one has to win and one has to lose."