Lewis Hamilton's 'natural ability is fantastic' says Button
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Fernando Alonso has praised Red Bull and Max Verstappen for stopping the ‘monotony of Mercedes’ in Formula One, with Lewis Hamilton facing one of his biggest challenges this year.
The Mercedes’ hybrid-era dominance speaks for itself in numbers, with seven-back to-back constructor titles, alongside seven driver titles too, with Hamilton smashing record after record with the reigning world champions.
The Briton has been alongside Mercedes since 2013, and has since gone on to dominate the championship, with seven world titles to his name. Six have been won with the Silver Arrows alone since 2014, and he’s now eyeing up a record-breaking eighth world title in Formula One.
Yet, this season we’ve seen a swing in the standings, with Verstappen leading the way by 12 points heading into round eight in Austria, with Red Bull stretching their legs at the top of the Constructors’ Championship by 37 points.
Alonso, who has two world titles to his name, returned this season to F1 after a two-year break competing in other championships and says he embraces the change.
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Asked in an interview with AS what he makes of the new rivalry, the Spaniard said: “Very good, actually. After years of monotony for Mercedes, where it was just Hamilton versus Bottas until the middle of the year and then it was over, to have two strong rivals is a good thing for the sport.
“For them, it’s a bit more stressful. For those who aren’t there, it’s a bit more fun.”
Alonso will start the race in Austria eighth on the grid for Alpine on Sunday as he continues his slow but steady comeback to the championship.
Verstappen starts from pole, with Hamilton behind him in second, looking to claw back important points in the battle to be named champion.
However, when asked if Hamilton’s dominance is over and he’s no longer unbeatable, the 39-year-old responded: “He never was. But he used to have to beat his team-mate and now he has to beat another car that sometimes will be faster, sometimes slower.
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“They are both at a very high level. When the Mercedes is a little bit better on a weekend, Verstappen still does something out of the ordinary to be in the fight. And when Red Bull is a bit better, Hamilton pulls something out of the hat and is in the fight.
“They have both raised the level and that’s interesting.”
Hamilton has vowed to bring the ‘fight’ to Red Bull at the Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday, but admitted they could be outpaced by the championship leaders.
The Dutchman set a blistering time of 1:03.841s around the Red Bull Ring during qualifying, two tenths faster than Valtteri Bottas who set a 1:04.035s with Hamilton behind on a 1:04.067.
“Firstly well done to Max, he did, I mean, they’ve been so fast this weekend, I’ve been giving it absolutely everything, but yeah, just wasn’t the greatest of sessions,” he said.
“Generally they’ve had a quarter of a second on us all weekend, and I think we’ve managed to eek closer in qualifying but in race pace yesterday though .45s ahead of us, most of the time, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not we can manage it.
“I don’t think we have real pace to overtake them, that’s for sure. But might just be able to keep up.
“We’ll be giving it everything, obviously, but I’m just talking about pure pace, but maybe tomorrow, We’ll be surprised, maybe it rains.”
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