De la Rosa: McLaren played 'lottery' with driver programme
"When I saw him make his debut, I realised that he was very special," the Spaniard, now 44, said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
More recently, McLaren has tried to similarly develop more young talents, including Heikki Kovalainen and also Kevin Magnussen, who has been dispensed with after just a single race season and the reserve role this year.
"I still remember a conversation with Martin Whitmarsh," de la Rosa recalled. "I said 'Stop playing the lottery as you have already won it with this boy (Hamilton)'."
Indeed, although now at Mercedes, Hamilton has gone on to thrive and excel, and de la Rosa thinks the conditions are right for the Briton to now win two more titles "smoothly".
"He is going to end up with many titles," he predicted. "He is a special talent like Fernando (Alonso) and Vettel, only he has a lethal weapon (the Mercedes car) that is far better than the others.
"The gaps may be reduced but I can't imagine him not having the car to beat again in 2016," said de la Rosa.
"2017? We'll see."
As far as how much Hamilton has developed since 2007, meanwhile, de la Rosa agrees that the biggest change has been in his off-track style, as he was "very restricted" in how he behaved at McLaren.
And the biggest thing he brought to Mercedes, de la Rosa thinks, was credibility.
"He played a key role in Mercedes," said the Spaniard, "because people like Paddy Lowe left McLaren to join him. That 'draw power', as is the case too with Fernando or Vettel, is huge and it has been great for his team."
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