Former McLaren coordinator Jo Ramirez has placed his bets on rookie Lewis Hamilton taking everyone by surprise next season, as the Mexican sees the reigning GP2 champion blossoming in the McLaren environment.
Ramirez, who worked in Formula One for over 40 years, retired at the end of the 2001 season after working with the likes of Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen.
And knowing McLaren better than most, he has intimate knowledge of the organisation as well as Hamilton, who was groomed by the Woking-based team for the past decade.
"You'll see, Hamilton will be the surprise of the season," Ramirez told Italian magazine Autosprint. "He's intelligent, and next to Alonso he'll be able to learn quickly in the best possible conditions.
"The challenge against Alonso will be good for Hamilton. He won't be crushed, McLaren are preparing him the best way.
"Anywhere he's raced he's won, he doesn't have weaknesses in his character, for him it's natural finding himself there. I almost feel like going back to work at McLaren to stay close to him."
Ramirez believes Hamilton will benefit from the close relationship he has with everyone working at McLaren, and he says the Briton will have more affection from the team than previous drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.
"With Montoya and Raikkonen, the mechanics had a formal, distanced relationship," Ramirez explained. "Hamilton, on the other hand, will feel one of them - because day in, day out they've seen him in the factory, growing as a man and as a driver, and they're all affectionate towards him.
"He is unlike any driver I've worked for at McLaren," Ramirez continued. "McLaren always took on expert drivers, not rookies.
"But in the way Lewis is adapting so quickly to F1, I'd say he reminds me of Francois Cevert at Tyrrell. He too made his F1 debut next to a world champion, Jackie Stewart, but he immediately went extremely quick."
Ramirez also had a prediction on the future of McLaren team boss Ron Dennis, as the Mexican sees the Briton actually increasing his involvement with the team in the short-term, before eventually selling out.
"Next year, Ron will again be involved in the management of the team like he used to be," Ramirez said. "In the last few years he was too involved with the new factory.
"In the end, he'll sell up his shares to Mercedes, but he'll do it only once McLaren win again the world championship - not before that."
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