Daniel Ricciardo backing Max Verstappen and three others to topple Lewis Hamilton

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Seven-time Formula One race winner Daniel Ricciardo has claimed that Max Verstappen is not the only driver capable of succeeding Lewis Hamilton at the top when the Mercedes man eventually retires from the sport. Verstappen looks set to mount a sustained Drivers’ Championship challenge this season, with Red Bull also hoping to end their eight-year barren spell in the Constructors’ Championship by finally overthrowing their German rivals.

Hamilton and Mercedes have scooped every available title since 2017, and will be confident of maintaining their dominance this year despite the challenge posed by Verstappen.

The Stevenage-born racer is currently 14 points clear at the top of the standings after claiming three wins from the opening four Grands Prix of the new season.

Verstappen took his only chequered flag at Imola last month, but has struggled to keep up in recent outings with Mercedes successfully clawing back the performance deficit to Red Bull as of late.

However, the Dutchman has every chance of finding himself at the top of the order when Hamilton decides to call time on his career, a development that could arrive within the next couple of years.

Ricciardo, who spent two seasons alongside Verstappen at Red Bull, has backed his former team-mate to take over as F1’s dominant force after his Mercedes rival leaves the grid for good.

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“I think Max will be at the top for as long as he wants to race,” Ricciardo told RacingNews365.

“Probably that is with him, as with Lewis, that he will go far, can be into his thirties if he wants to.”

Although Ricciardo clearly recognises his ex-Red Bull colleague’s frightening potential, he went on to suggest that the post-Hamilton era could also play out as a closely-fought battle between a number of up-and-coming stars.

Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell have all shown flashes of championship-winning potential, with the Aussie driver backing the trio to push Verstappen all the way in future seasons.

“I’ve already worked with a lot of the next generation, Max for example,” explained Ricciardo.

“So you have Max and I think also Charles. We will see how Lando is doing this year, but he already showed that he has what it takes to reach the top.

“I also expect George to be at the front of the field as soon as he gets access to a good car. And then you have guys like Sainz and myself.

“I just call us the mid-aged guys, who have been around for quite some years. Just like in many sports, the talents are getting younger and younger.

“I think that’s also because they have people around them with experience, who they can learn from practice. This also makes them learn faster.”

Leclerc has established himself as the future of Ferrari since joining the team in 2019, and was rewarded for his efforts with a bumper five-year deal last season, suggesting that he will stick around in the paddock for the long-term.

Ricciardo’s McLaren team-mate Norris is another with significant potential, while Russell has been tipped to replace Hamilton or even Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes before too long.

Verstappen may be leading the charge for F1’s new generation at the moment, but with next year’s regulations set to level the playing field somewhat, it remains to be seen whether the Red Bull man will be troubled by his fellow young stars in the seasons to come.

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