The new Schu

Bernie Ecclestone has compared Lewis Hamilton to seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher - but doubts he will lift the title in his debut season.

Bernie Ecclestone has compared Lewis Hamilton to seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher - but doubts he will lift the title in his debut season.

Heading into tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton is certainly in contention following a storming start in his first three races.

The 22-year-old Briton has wowed the sport after being handed a drive by McLaren, who have nurtured his motor racing upbringing over the last decade.

Although team-mate to reigning two-time champion Fernando Alonso, Hamilton has so far stood shoulder to shoulder and gone toe to toe with the Spaniard.

A third place on his debut in Australia was followed in Malaysia and Bahrain by Hamilton taking the runner-up spot. That has already earned Hamilton a place in the Formula One history books - dominated by Schumacher - as the first driver to finish on the podium in his first three grands prix.

That is a feat not even the legendary German achieved, and which has given him a share of the lead in the championship alongside Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, to the delight of F1 supremo Ecclestone.

"He's a nice guy, a really good guy and super for the sport," assessed Ecclestone. "He is doing a super job, and doesn't seem to put a foot wrong.

"The guy's a winner and it's not going to be too long before he wins a race."

But as for lifting the title, that is a different matter, as the 76-year-old added: "Not this year. I think it would be asking too much."

Raikkonen, however, believes Hamilton could be Ferrari's "worst enemy" over the course of the season.

Alonso claimed in Bahrain that the tight nature of the title fight would eventually boil down to two drivers, as has happened over the years.

The 25-year-old did not name the two, but there is every likelihood he was referring to himself and his Finnish rival Raikkonen.

However, Raikkonen remarked: "It doesn't look like it right now. It's very close.

"But it's going to be a long season, and it's probably not going to be like this all year.

"Some things will happen to some drivers and they will lose too many points to get back into the championship.

"I can't say what will happen in future, but we are going very well, so we'll see."

It would appear to be Hamilton, though, who has Raikkonen worried, as he added: "So far he has been driving very well. He might be our worst enemy."

Hamilton was forced to settle for fourth on the grid - for the third time this year - at the end of qualifying at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Felipe Massa, currently five points behind the leading trio in the drivers' standings, claimed his third successive pole position and sixth of his career.

In a thrilling duel, the Brazilian edged home favourite Alonso into second, with team-mate Raikkonen third - again for the third time in a row.

Massa's hot lap in Q2 of one minute 20.597 seconds is officially a lap record as the reconfigured circuit sports a new chicane.

David Coulthard claimed ninth, while Jenson Button showed marginal improvement for Honda with 14th. A spin into the gravel did not help Anthony Davidson's cause as the Super Aguri driver was 15th.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer