Lewis Hamilton declared he was "more impressed" by the efforts of Red Bull's engineers than by Max Verstappen's driving ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix.
Having beaten Hamilton to the drivers' championship in controversial circumstances last year, Verstappen has been dominant throughout 2022, and holds a 93-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez at the top of the standings.
Red Bull also appear certain to end Mercedes' eight-year stranglehold on the constructors' title, having built a 118-point advantage over Ferrari.
Not since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix have Red Bull failed to get at least one driver onto the podium, while Verstappen has secured nine victories in his last 11 outings.
But when asked about Verstappen's performances, Hamilton chose to shower praise on those behind his car, responding: "I'm more impressed with [Red Bull's chief technical officer] Adrian Newey and his team.
"I think the team, it is a great team. They've generally had really great cars.
"I think they used to have really high ride height and more drag than before, but I think they've realised this year that their engine isn't actually slower than others. They've done a fantastic job.
"When you've got a stable platform like that… it's a great team. They've done an amazing job. I've got to take my hat off to Red Bull. They had a great car last year as well."
In 2011, Hamilton famously dismissed Red Bull as "just a drinks company", but now acknowledges his criticism was misplaced.
"Anything I would have said in the past about the team... I didn't mean it in a negative way," the seven-time world champion added.
"A few years ago, I said something about them being a drinks company and it was really just highlighting that you would bet on a car manufacturer more than them.
"But they've proved me wrong, and they've done a great job."
Meanwhile, Hamilton's strained relationship with 2021 title rival Verstappen could mean the Briton receives a hostile welcome in Zandvoort ahead of Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix.
Hamilton finished as runner-up to Verstappen at the 24-year-old's home race last year, but refuted suggestions his next outing will resemble an "away fixture".
"It's just another race," Hamilton said. "I'm here to do a job."