Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is favourite to beat Lewis Hamilton and win the Formula 1 title on current form, two-time champion Fernando Alonso says.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 18 points ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix after four straight wins by Red Bull.
The 23-year-old Dutchman is aiming to secure his first drivers’ championship.
“Favourite at the moment probably is Max because he is performing better,” said Alpine driver Alonso.
“Things can change quickly depending on the performance of the teams and the updates to the car etc.”
Hamilton said he felt “positive” about Mercedes’ prospects for this weekend’s race.
Verstappen’s victory in the Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday was one of the most dominant performances of the season and his third victory in four races. His team-mate Sergio Perez won the other.
This weekend’s Grand Prix is back at the same track but Hamilton said he and his Mercedes team had been working on trying to improve their pace.
“They [Red Bull] have done a great job in these last four races,” Hamilton said.
“It’s been really difficult for us from Monaco, which was a bit of disaster, and then same for Baku. Better in France and last weekend.
“However, they have taken a step ahead of us and we are just working as hard as we can to see if there’s a way we can close that gap. We are not even half way through the season so we are still fighting and chasing for this title.”
Asked if he was concerned about the way the season was developing, and Mercedes’ struggles to improve their car, he said: “I don’t really find myself being concerned, as such.
“Of course we are all pushing as hard as we can. We would love to have more pace to be able to really challenge, not only in qualifying but also in the race. They are continuing to make steps forward.
“But I can’t get tied up with getting in the negative bubble of worrying. All I do right now is just try to put all the energy into making sure I’m the best prepared, helping the engineers be best prepared.
“This is a time when we come together and we work as hard as we can to rectify what issues we have. That’s why we’re world champions and I have confidence in the team that we can do that.”
Verstappen said: “It’s a still a long season and we need to stay focused. We are at the same track but different [tyre] compounds and it is going to be more difficult with everyone having raced here one weekend already.”
Alonso, who has returned to F1 this season with the team formally known as Renault after two years racing in other categories, said he was enjoying watching the fight between his long-time rival Hamilton and Verstappen.
“It is very interesting from the outside to follow and watch,” the Spaniard said. “At least we don’t have like previous years that it was Lewis against Lewis and sometimes Valtteri [Bottas] but not often.
“We have a more interesting championship so we can follow with a little more adrenaline until Abu Dhabi. That’s a good thing.”
Alonso criticises FIA on policing
Alonso also made a pointed observation about governing body the FIA, after race director Michael Masi warned Verstappen for slowing as he crossed the line to win last weekend and doing a tyre burn-out.
Masi said: “It was not an ideal situation, which is why I spoke to the team immediately and told them accordingly that it’s something that would not be tolerated in future.”
Verstappen said: “I understand of course about safety and I looked in my mirrors and went all the way to the right and took it easy. I just did burn-out. OK, if it’s not allowed, I won’t do it again. At the time, I thought it was really funny and safe but I understand they don’t want to see this happening again, which is fine for me.”
But Alonso said he felt that the FIA should have looked into an incident at the first corner, in which Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri collided as both returned to the track after running wide.
“I like when you can be yourself and this burn-out, it was nice to watch,” Alonso said. “The fans like that. You see a lot of videos from those moments in social media.
“The FIA should police more the track limits and Turn One. I was the only one making a move into Turn One at the start and the two cars I overtook, they missed Turn One and they exit in front of me and there were no warnings on that, there was on the burn-out.
“So there are some things for sure we can improve from the fans’ point of view.”
Another signing for Aston Martin
Aston Martin have made the latest in a series of high-level recruitments as they seek to build the team into title contenders in the future.
After announcing a technical restructure, and signing a new technical director from Red Bull last week, they have taken on another former Red Bull engineer, Andrew Alessi, as head of technical operations.
Alessi joined Aston Martin on Thursday and will lead, manage and develop the design, planning, production and operations of the team’s aerodynamics department.