A fired-up Nico Rosberg deserves to beat Lewis Hamilton to this year's world championship, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has claimed.
Rosberg, 31, is on the brink of claiming his first world title after moving 26 points clear of Hamilton with only three rounds remaining.
And while Hamilton was faster than Rosberg in both practice sessions here in Mexico City on Friday, the German knows he can afford to finish second in two of the final three races, and third on one occasion, and still clinch the title.
Rosberg, who can win the championship as early as this weekend if he triumphs in Mexico and Hamilton finishes 10th or lower, has enjoyed a relatively trouble-free year.
In contrast, the defence of Hamilton's third title has been plagued by a number of mechanical problems. The Briton was on course to take charge of the championship battle earlier this month only for his engine to blow up as he led in Malaysia.
"Of course Lewis had some bad luck, but Nico has had some very strong races, too," Verstappen said. "That is racing - it is a mechanical sport - and these things can happen.
"This year, definitely compared to last year, Nico really stepped up and he has some great results. He deserves it and he is definitely fighting hard for it.
"He is fired up because Lewis won the world championship twice, and he finished second and that is not nice. So, you always try to work harder in the winter and become stronger and even better.
"Lately, Lewis has to work harder for it now because of the failures he has had, and now he is behind, he is pushing really hard."
Verstappen, 19, who earlier this year became the sport's youngest winner after he triumphed on his Red Bull debut in Spain, arrived in Mexico with Rosberg, his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, and French driver Romain Grosjean after the quartet boarded a private jet from Austin.
Rosberg has rarely strayed from the mantra of taking one race at a time in a campaign which has yielded an impressive nine victories - but the German conceded earlier this week that a world title would be the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.
"He is pretty relaxed, and he doesn't really talk about [the title] too much - which is good," Verstappen added.
"You just have to focus on the job that you have to do on track and see it race-by-race instead of dreaming about a world championship which isn't there yet. I am never a dreamer, so I would probably approach it the same way."
Meanwhile, Verstappen also claimed that some of the sport's elder statesmen lobbied for a rule change in order to beat him on track.
At the last race in Austin, the FIA outlawed moving under braking to defend a position after Verstappen courted criticism for adopting such a tactic this season.
Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who share five world championships between them, have been particularly vocal in their opposition of the Dutchman's ploy.
"I think it is a pretty positive thing that they have to apply a rule to get past me," a typically-bullish Verstappen added. "You always have the older guys in every sport who speak up a bit more to the younger ones.
"The older guys have been the most vocal, the world champions [in particular]. Lewis doesn't really speak that much. He is pretty relaxed. I just try to be myself and do my own thing."