1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill believes the dominant Mercedes team found a worthy opponent in Red Bull’s Max Verstappen this season.
Verstappen claimed the Drivers’ Championship last Sunday in Abu Dhabi, marking the first time in the turbo-hybrid era that Mercedes has missed out on a title.
The championship was decided under controversial circumstances, with Verstappen overtaking rival Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the grand prix following a Safety Car restart.
Mercedes was challenged on the track by Ferrari in 2017 and 2018, however the Maranello-based squad’s championship hunt fell short in the final stages of both seasons.
Hamilton congratulated Verstappen for his success immediately after the race, an act that was hailed by Verstappen.
Speaking on the F1 Nation podcast, Hill also praised Hamilton’s sportsmanship, and states that Verstappen is the strong opposition that both Hamilton and Mercedes have been waiting for.
“[He had] massively impressive dignity in defeat,” Hill said of Hamilton. “I think in some ways that can be a way of winning, as well.
“You have to accept that this is not an exact science, our sport, and sometimes it goes against you and you might feel aggrieved.
“But everyone gave their best, and he recognised the greatness in Max, Max has acknowledged that. They found their worthy opponent.”
Hill added that he was pleased to see the tension between Hamilton and Verstappen put to bed shortly after the race, which hasn’t always occurred between title rivals.
“I also found with Michael [Schumacher], he never thought I was a worthy opponent and once I beat him in the wet, he was slightly impressed by that,” Hill said.
“He came over and congratulated me after that race. It’s great when it happens like that. It’s ‘let’s have another bash next year and put this behind us’.
“Not let it fester, it would be awful if it was a festering resentment, which sometimes happened with other drivers. Between Senna and Prost it got very ugly and lasted for quite a while.”