'Max is one step ahead' - Alonso verdict as Verstappen battles Hamilton for F1 glory

By Sports Desk December 09, 2021

Fernando Alonso claims Max Verstappen has been the standout driver in Formula One this season, declaring the Red Bull star to be "one step ahead" as a winner-takes-all battle with Lewis Hamilton looms.

Two-time former drivers' championship winner Alonso claims Verstappen "deserves it" ahead of this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; but, like everyone, he is waiting keenly to see what unfolds.

The experienced Spaniard, currently with middle-of-the-pack Alpine, is too wily to predict anything at this stage, as Verstappen and Hamilton head into the final race of the season locked together on 369.5 points.

It is a scriptwriter's dream as the season comes to a close, but if Alonso looks back across the year, his hunch is that Verstappen has been the outstanding driver.

Looking ahead to Sunday's showdown, Alonso offered his expert view, saying: "It will depend on the package a little bit; Mercedes lately have been more performing, and they've won a couple of races now, but Max is driving – in my opinion – one step ahead of all of us.

"We saw the [qualifying] lap in Jeddah, until he touched the wall at the last corner, that lap was coming from Max, not the Red Bull.

"In a way, that's my opinion: Mercedes deserve the constructors' championship because the car is superior and Max, maybe overall in the year, was driving one step ahead of everyone."

It will come down to nerve and driving excellence on Sunday, plus whatever the teams can do to help the championship-chasing pair.

Alpine star Alonso is a former team-mate of Hamilton, dating back to 2007 in their time together at McLaren. That was Hamilton's first year in a Formula One seat, and in the final race of the season both the McLarens and Ferrari star Kimi Raikkonen were in the title frame.

Hamilton led the championship going into that race in Brazil but could only finish seventh, while Alonso took third and Raikkonen won the race. It meant Raikkonen carried off the title, with Hamilton and Alonso just one point behind the Finn.

The battle between Hamilton and his Mercedes team and Verstappen with Red Bull has become increasingly tense as the season has edged towards this remarkable finale.

Hamilton is chasing a record-breaking eighth title, which would take him above Michael Schumacher, while the 24-year-old Verstappen has yet to be crowned champion.

"It's not that I support Max. It's that he deserves it in my opinion," Alonso said, quoted on formula1.com.

"Everyone has a different opinion, but he is driving that Red Bull to another level. I think it is very interesting to watch from the outside, that’s good.

"What is happening at the front, as a motorsport fan you are following and you are aware of the stress... and it’s nice to watch from the outside."

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