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Formula 1

Johansson exclusive: Verstappen is world class like Hamilton

Stefan Johansson has great admiration for Lewis Hamilton, as the former Ferrari and McLaren driver believes Hamilton made a bold decision in switching from McLaren to Mercedes. In an interview with RacingNews365.com, Johansson let it be known that while he views the Brit as a key figure in F1, he believes Max Verstappen is ready to challenge him for the world title.

Interviews
To news overview © Getty Images/Red Bull Cotentpool

Stefan Johansson knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in Formula 1, which is why it's no surprise to see him pick Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen as the two men that are a class above the rest of the grid.

In the 1980s Stefan Johansson raced for both McLaren and Ferrari, amassing 12 podium finishes. Although the Swede never took home a world title, he knows what it takes to drive for a top team and that includes being bold, something he believes Hamilton has demonstrated.

"Lewis Hamilton is doing really great in Formula 1," Johansson told RacingNews365.com. "Everyone thought he was crazy when he made the switch from McLaren to Mercedes, but he dared to make that jump anyway and look where he is now. Lewis is a great example of how important it is to make the right move at the right time.

"I must say that I am a big fan of Hamilton, not only for his achievements but also for who he is. He seems to have a very broad view of the world and I like that."

While Johansson certainly had plenty of praise for the seven-time world champion, he also believes that Verstappen can give the Mercedes driver a run for his money in the battle for the world title.

"There are only a few drivers on the F1 grid who have it in them to become world champions, who know how to win a title," Johansson continued. "Among those three or four drivers who could win a title is Verstappen.

"In my eyes, Verstappen has developed into a world title contender in recent years. He has everything it takes to become world champion. The Dutchman took every opportunity to win and, like Hamilton, he is world class. I think Verstappen had a great season in 2020."

Johansson now follows Formula 1 from the United States, where he settled following the end of his Formula 1 career. He believes the premier class of motorsport continues to grow around the world, partly because of Hamilton's influence.

"Formula 1 is becoming more and more well-known in the USA," Johansson added. "Formula 1 owner Liberty Media has made great strides in promoting F1 in America. Netflix also played a big role in that, as the series Drive to Survive has been very well received here.

"Of course lifestyle plays a big role in the USA and that's why Hamilton is also very popular. Yet America is and will remain a unique country in terms of sports. They often stay true to their traditional sports like American Football, baseball and basketball. In addition, NASCAR is also very big in America, there is actually something for everyone, especially in the middle of the country."

Johansson, who still follows both Formula 1 and American racing closely, is convinced that new F1 boss Stefano Domenicali will not lose sight of the American market.

"I think Domenicali is the right man to lead the Formula 1 world," Johansson said. "He understands the business of F1 incredibly well and I think he will manage everything very well. Domenicali is also the right man to make the sport even bigger in the United States.

"Hopefully the budget cap is going to help with that as well, that's a rule that suits the American fans and also myself. As a result, hopefully we'll see more teams competing again. At the moment there is little competition in terms of fighting for victories, the gap between teams is simply too big at the moment."

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