Alpine’s Fernando Alonso has said he rates the performances of George Russell and Max Verstappen higher that those of Sir Lewis Hamilton while the Spaniard was out of the sport.
Following 18 seasons, 97 podiums, 32 race wins and two championships, Alonso decided to leave Formula 1 at the end of 2018 having endured four torrid seasons with McLaren under Honda and Renault power.
He took two years away to participate in the 24 hours of Le Mans, as well as attempting to qualify for the Indy 500.
When he was not behind the wheel of a race car, the 40-year-old sat down to watch F1, and looked on as Hamilton claimed two of his seven championships in dominant fashion in both 2019 and 2020.
However, what caught his eye was not the splendid efforts from the Stevenage-born driver, but rather the one from King’s Lynn.
Russell out-qualified Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi in every race at Williams in 2019 and 2020, performing exquisitely when deputising for his ill compatriot in the Mercedes at the Sakhir Grand Prix in the latter of those seasons.
Verstappen claimed five race wins for Red Bull while Alonso was away, and doubled his tally of 10 over the course of the 2021 season en route to his first championship success.
Alonso therefore sees those two as the ones who grabbed his attention more than Hamilton.
“I said at the beginning of the championship, before it started, in Bahrain, that the drivers who impressed me the most when I was at home watching on TV were George [Russell], about the performance at Williams, and Max [Verstappen],” he explained.
“Those were the two guys for whom I was turning on the television. They were giving something extra.”
The Spaniard then cited Daniel Ricciardo as one of the factors that tempted him back to Renault’s sports brand for this year after two podiums for the Australian in 2020.
“Daniel [Ricciard]) was also there. Because I was in the Renault and that car interested me a lot last year. Now you know first-hand how the Enstone factory has evolved,” he added.
Alonso scored his first podium in seven years at the Qatar Grand Prix last season, and ended the year 10th in the Drivers’ Championship.
He and team-mate Esteban Ocon drew 11-11 in the qualifying battle, and the pair have been retained for 2022 after guiding the team to a fifth-placed Constructors’ Championship finish.