BEIJING, May 7 (Xinhua) — Aston Martin F1 driver Sebastian Vettel has predicted that Lewis Hamilton will see off the challenge of Max Verstappen and win a record eighth Formula One world championship.

A strong start to the 2021 season by Verstappen has led many to suggest that his Red Bull team will finally break the stranglehold on F1 held by Hamilton’s Mercedes squad, which has swept every available title since 2014.

Hamilton holds a slender lead over Verstappen after the first three Grands Prix of 2021, and speaking exclusively to Xinhua, Vettel backed the Briton to emerge triumphant by the season’s end.

“I think Lewis will come out on top,” the German told Xinhua on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix at Montmelo. “He’s probably got that little extra bit of experience and knowledge.”

Vettel is well-placed to comment on what it takes to be successful in F1, having won four world championships of his own between 2010 and 2013 while at Red Bull.

The German then moved to Ferrari in 2015 but was unable to break the dominance of Hamilton and Mercedes, and came in for increasing criticism after a series of high-profile mistakes cost him a likely shot at the title in 2018.

Worse was to come in 2019 when Vettel was outscored and overshadowed by new teammate Charles Leclerc, and the German was informed by Ferrari that he would not be retained for 2021 even before a dismal 2020 season was underway.

Though it looked for a time as though the 51-time Grand Prix winner would be on his way out of F1, the 33-year-old was thrown a lifeline for 2021 by the newly-rebranded Aston Martin squad and the deep pockets of its ambitious owner Lawrence Stroll.

“I feel I have something to prove to myself,” says Vettel, whose last win came at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. “You are racing for yourself, so in that regard, you [always] have something to prove when you step in the car. When I get in the car, I want to make sure that I’m happy; when I get out of the car, I know I’ve done everything that I can.”

In its previous guise as Racing Point, the Silverstone-based team scored regular points and won the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix in the hands of Vettel’s predecessor Sergio Perez, prompting many to suggest that the team would remain upwardly mobile into 2021.

However, the AMR21 has thus far proved a tricky beast to tame, with the car’s handling and balance having been affected by a change in F1’s aero regulations for this season. The resultant drop in competitiveness has seen Vettel and teammate Lance Stroll – son of Lawrence – mired in the midfield, and the German admits that the team’s original goals for 2021 have had to be lowered.

“Starting the season, we were aiming for third in the constructors’ standings. I think we reset that expectation a little bit, because currently, it’s quite far away. We wanted the car to perform better, that’s not a secret. It’s not doing what we want it to, [and] it’s not quick enough, but we’re working very hard to make sure that it gets better.”

Vettel will at least have an updated version of the AMR21 at his disposal for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, though the German remains cautious on whether this will vault him up the order.

“Naturally it [raises expectations] when you have updates on the car, but you always have to wait and see. For sure we would like to make a step forward, but it’s always hard to say how big that step is, because you don’t know what others are doing. Maybe others have an update as well. We will see.”

At 33 years old, Vettel is undoubtedly nearer the end of his F1 career than the beginning, and a glance at his recent activities outside the cockpit suggests a man with an increasing interest in sustainability and environmental issues.

While F1 was on a pandemic-enforced hiatus in early 2021, the German used the extra free time to undertake an internship at an organic farm – which included milking cows at 5 am – and has also supported a campaign aimed at restoring bee habitats.

“I think it’s something that we all have to be involved in,” Vettel says of the desire to be more environmentally aware. “I think we all have to drive the change and try to do things in a better way. I think it’s a very fascinating topic, mostly because it’s so relevant. It’s not somewhere far distant in the future. It’s happening already and we all have to do something and be interested to some degree.”