Lewis Hamilton is confident he will be in the mix for a first win of the season at Sunday's French Grand Prix, claiming Mercedes' struggles will make their next victory all the more satisfying.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton sits sixth in the 2022 drivers' standings, having failed to post a race win since losing the 2021 title to Max Verstappen in contentious circumstances.

The Mercedes star has been in improved form of late, however, recording three successive podiums after a run of seven outings without a top-three finish.

Having been badly affected by issues with the Silver Arrows' W13 car earlier this season, the 37-year-old is hopeful of a landmark success at Le Castellet on Sunday, in what will be his 300th Formula One race.

Asked if he had a realistic chance of victory in France, Hamilton said: "I hope so, that's what we're all working towards.

"I'm working towards getting that win so I do believe at some stage we will be able to compete with these guys, whether it's this weekend or in five races' time. The journey is the important part.

"I think we started off not where we wanted to be. We've made progress, and we've started to hit a patch of consistency. I'm really proud of the process. We've sharpened our tools in other areas, so when we do get back to where we deserve to be, I think we'll appreciate it that much more."

Hamilton has named Fernando Alonso as the toughest opponent of his career to date, as he professed his hope the 40-year-old, who has put together a run of six successive top-10 finishes with Alpine, will continue in Formula One for years to come.

"I think it's difficult to say who has necessarily been the strongest competitor because every time you're with someone, you're in a different place in your life," Hamilton said.

"I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22. I was so young mentally and, of course, OK in terms of skill, but it's a lot of pressure to go up against a great like Fernando.

"I would say on pure pace, Fernando [is the toughest]. We had some good battles.

"I wish we could have more. Hopefully he will continue to race, so hopefully we'll have more in the future."

Fernando Alonso believes Formula One's growing popularity has led to a dwindling appreciation of drivers from past eras, claiming many new fans "don't know much" about the sport.

Having raced in other categories at the Dakar Rally and the Indianapolis 500, the two-time F1 champion made a stellar return to the series in 2021, after relinquishing his seat with McLaren at the end of the 2018 season.

The 40-year-old has showed no signs of slowing down in literal and figurative terms, currently sitting 10th in the drivers' standings in a middling Alpine and matching team-mate Esteban Ocon for pace.

Alonso believes that despite his own quality as a racer, he and other drivers have faced negative consequences from F1's Netflix-fuelled influx of new fans.

"I think the perception from the outside or the feeling towards me, has changed, from time to time," he told The Race. "And in 2007 [the year after his second F1 title], maybe people had a perception of what I was as a driver or as a person."

He suggested that changed when he had a five-season spell at Ferrari from 2010 to 2014.

"Now I think that the fans that we have now, there are new fans and in a way – and I don't want to lack respect to them – but they don't know much about Formula 1," said Alonso.

"They just are more like a football kind of fan, where they just follow the results, whoever is winning does the best. And whoever is last is not Formula 1 level.

"They don't understand much about car performance and the package that you need. So you are on more of a rollercoaster kind of feeling, of perception, of what the people feel about you."

Alonso has been unfortunate not to pick up a bigger haul of points in recent outings, with a double stop in Austria arguably costing him a second straight top-five finish.

He did, however, concede his front-row position in the wet in Canada was significant in the context of his return and changing minds.

"It meant a lot because when you decide to come back, you need to put away a few things in life – family, friends again – and have full dedication for the job you do, travelling, the physical aspect, the mental aspect, everything and the pressure that you feel in your shoulders," he said.

"Because you are Fernando Alonso, and everyone will look at you if you are doing well."

After recent issues with reliability putting a dent in their championship hopes, Ferrari were able to marginally recover at the British Grand Prix with Carlos Sainz's maiden Formula One race win.

It was a bittersweet Sunday for the Scuderia at Silverstone, however, with tactics scuppering a potential one-two finish with Charles Leclerc, who fell away to finish fourth on older hard tyres following a late safety car.

Ferrari capitalised to some extent, but were not able to take full advantage of Max Verstappen's damaged floor putting him out of contention for the race win.

Now heading into Red Bull's home race at the Austrian Grand Prix, the championship challengers simply must recover more ground if they are to mount a real threat in the standings.

Reigning world champion Verstappen has won the last two races and claimed the last two pole positions at Spielberg, however, making a repeat of Sunday's run to the chequered flag for Ferrari unlikely.

Red Bull have won three of the past four Austrian GPs, with Verstappen taking all three for the team.

The Red Bull Ring has been a happy hunting ground for the 24-year-old, reaching the podium six times, with two fastest laps as well as his four wins and two pole positions, with all being the most out of any circuit in his career.

A Ferrari win would prove an important historical moment for the team, though, as well as what it means in context of this season.

The Scuderia need only 23 points to be the first team in F1 to reach 9,000 points, while both they and Mercedes are one win away from equalling McLaren's record six wins in Austria.

Meanwhile, they are one clearout of the front row away from surpassing Mercedes for the most one-two qualifying finishes in F1, with both on 82.

Can Sainz push on after breaking through?

Carlos Sainz finally broke through at Silverstone, even declining team orders to collect the race win upon the resumption after the safety car.

Despite a tricky start to the season, Sainz has slowly developed confidence in the car, with six podiums this season

One more would see him surpass his total over the previous seven seasons in F1, and could be the first Spaniard since Fernando Alonso in 2010 to record back-to-back wins.

Austria does not follow 'El Plan'

Alonso's longevity and focus has been nothing short of extraordinary since returning to F1, but Austria has not been the most forthcoming of places for him.

Despite encouraging recent form, including a second place in qualifying in Canada and a fifth-place finish at Silverstone, the 40-year-old will be looking to change that.

The two-time world champion has appeared nine times at Spielberg, the circuit with his lowest aggregate of race wins, pole positions, fastest laps and podiums in his career.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 181
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 147
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 138
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 127
5. George Russell (Mercedes) 111

Constructors

1. Red Bull 328
2. Ferrari 265
3. Mercedes 204
4. McLaren 73
5. Alpine 67

Charles Leclerc is confident Ferrari will be fighting for the win at Silverstone – as long as the team can avoid any further reliability woes.

Power unit issues have led to recent retirements in Spain and Azerbaijan, the last of which resulted in a back-of-the-grid start for the Canadian Grand Prix after taking a third unit of the season.

Those troubles, accompanied by a wrong strategy call in Monaco, have seen Max Verstappen and Red Bull take a commanding lead in both championships – with the defending champion winning four of the past five races.

Ferrari's potential is undeniable, with six pole positions out of nine, but only two have resulted in race wins and the last came in Australia almost three months ago.

In his career overall, Leclerc's 15 poles have returned just four wins for a 27 per cent winning percentage – the second lowest in F1 history among drivers who have won at least one race, behind only Jarno Trulli (25 per cent, one win from four pole positions). 

Despite a 49-point deficit in the driver's championship, third-placed Leclerc remains upbeat and believes reliability will be an issue for all teams to contend with this season.

"No, I'm not worried. I mean, it's a big gap but, but I'm just focusing on the job, and I'm confident that we can take that back," he told Motorsport.

"I think reliability seems to be a concern for everyone this season. And yeah, if we fix our reliability, the performance is there to come back. So already from Silverstone we'll try to get a few points back.

"I really like Silverstone. And hopefully we will be competitive enough to be starting on pole and finally win from pole."

Mercedes' hunting ground

Eight of the past nine British GPs have been won by Mercedes, with the only exception being Sebastian Vettel with Ferrari in 2018, and improvements shown in Canada will provide encouragement for the Silver Arrows.

Lewis Hamilton's second podium finish of the season in third was the highlight in Montreal, but George Russell's consistency continues to stand out, with the British driver finishing in the top five in all nine races in 2022.

A win for Hamilton would be the ninth of his career at Silverstone, setting a new record for the most wins in a single GP – overtaking his eight victories in Hungary and Michael Schumacher's eight wins in France.

Driver market

Away from the track itself, the F1 driver market is starting to heat up as teams outline their plans for the 2023 season, and there are a number on the grid who could be under threat of losing their seats.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are both out of contract at the end of the season – although each could still extend – while Daniel Ricciardo has work to do to impress McLaren to retain his seat despite being tied down for a further year.

Nicholas Latifi at Williams and Mick Schumacher at Haas are also under pressure, with F2 champion and Alpine reserve Oscar Piastri expected to get a chance in 2023. Antonio Giovinazzi has been touted for a return to the grid, too.

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 175
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 129
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 126
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 111
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 102

Constructors

1. Red Bull 304
2. Ferrari 228
3. Mercedes 188
4. McLaren 65
5. Alpine 57

Fernando Alonso lamented another engine problem that "hurts a lot" after struggling at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he was demoted to ninth following a time penalty.

The Alpine driver produced an incredible drive on Saturday to secure second on the grid behind Max Verstappen.

However, Alonso fell away on Sunday as Verstappen held off the push of Carlos Sainz to claim his sixth win of the season and mark Red Bull's best start to a Formula One season.

Alonso initially finished in seventh in Montreal, but was handed a five-second time penalty after he was deemed to have made more than one change of direction while protecting against Valtteri Bottas.

The Spanish veteran believes he could have fought for a place on the podium if it was not for an engine problem with his A522 car.

"It was a pretty good race in terms of pace, I think we could have fought for the podium, seeing that [Lewis] Hamilton finished there and we were ahead of him in a more or less controlled way, but from lap 20 we had a problem in the engine," Alonso said.

"It was an energy issue that cut the KERS in the middle of the straights, more or less I lost eight-tenths of a second per lap.

"To be on the DRS train with [Esteban] Ocon and [Charles] Leclerc, the truth is that in the bends I had to go to the top and well, keeping the seventh position was a miracle at the end.

"Having this reliability problem today, another engine problem in my car, the truth is that it hurts a lot.

"We didn't have any luck with the safety cars either. I was just passing through the finish line and the safety car came out and just when I was going back to enter the pits, it was over.

"Luck was not on our side today, as usual."

Red Bull's Sergio Perez conceded it was driver error that forced his crash in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, which will see him start from a lowly 13th on Sunday's race in Montreal.

Perez, who sits second in the driver's standings behind team-mate Max Verstappen, put his Red Bull into the wall at turn three during Q2 on Saturday, forcing out the red flag and ending his hopes of a front-row finish.

Verstappen handled the wet conditions best, meanwhile, finishing almost seven tenths of a second quicker than Fernando Alonso, who qualified second in his Alpine.

After a disappointing qualifying finish, Perez claimed Sunday's race will be about damage limitation from his standpoint.

"I did a mistake from my side, so I'm very sorry for my team," Perez told Sky Sports F1 post-qualifying. "I let them down unfortunately, but I'm going to already be thinking on tomorrow, and hopefully I'm able to recover and get into strong points.

"I wasn't struggling with the brakes, I think they were on the cold side. I had a lock-up into turn 10 the lap before. I flat-spotted them, and it probably meant that I was a bit out of shape and going into turn three I just became a passenger. As soon as I touched the brake, it was a bit too much.

"It can be tricky and difficult, but it was just a mistake from my side. Tomorrow I will just try to minimise the damage and just attack from lap one onwards, and see where we end up."

On the other hand, Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer cited driver quality as the reason Alonso was able to qualify in second amid tricky conditions.

Both Alpine cars progressed to Q3, with Esteban Ocon also finishing in seventh but he was out-qualified by nearly two seconds by Alonso, who was without fear in the wet.

"We've had good pace here all weekend," Szafnauer told Sky Sports F1. "We had decent pace in Baku too, so we keep working on the car, but Fernando's experience and skill shone through today, and put it on the front row.

"He's always been really, really good at adapting very quickly, so he's always on the pace very quickly. When you have changeable conditions, that ability to adapt quickly shines through."

Max Verstappen clinched pole position for Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix and Fernando Alonso secured an unlikely spot on the front row in Montreal.

Alonso, who set the pace in the final practice session, claimed second place in tricky, wet conditions in Saturday's qualifying session.

That hands the 40-year-old Spaniard his first front-row start in Formula One since he won from pole position at the German Grand Prix just under 10 years ago.

The two-time world champion, racing for Alpine, was the recipient of a huge ovation from the crowd as he celebrated his supreme qualifying performance, clocking up a time of 1:21.944 behind championship leader Verstappen's 1:21.299.

"It feels great. It was an unbelievable weekend for us so far, we’ve been competitive in free practice – which we normally are on Friday but on Saturday we seem to lose a little bit of pace – but in wet conditions today the car was mega, I was so comfortable driving this car and I think the fans gave me a push," a jubilant Alonso said.

When asked what his approach will be on Sunday, Alonso quipped: "Let's see, I think I will attack Max on the first corner."

Verstappen's pole ended the day on a high note for Red Bull, with team-mate and fellow title contender Sergio Perez set to start in 13th place after crashing out in Q2.

In difficult conditions, the reigning world champion – who will be further buoyed by title rival Charles Leclerc having to start at the back on Sunday due to Ferrari changing his entire power unit – was delighted with the composure shown by his team.

"Of course I still expect it not to be a straightforward race, today with tricky conditions, we stayed calm and we made the right calls in Q3 so of course, super happy with that to get pole position here and to be back in Montreal and great to see all the fans," he said.

"You really get that go-karting sensation back on this track with proper curves. We always enjoy driving here and I’m looking forward to tomorrow."

Carlos Sainz looked poised to push Verstappen, but a mistake on the final corner cost the Ferrari driver, who will start third on the grid. An incident involving the Spaniard and Esteban Ocon was investigated, but the stewards decided no further action was required.

Sainz said: "I was feeling quite okay with the car, especially in the full wet. In that lap I knew I had lost a bit too much, I tried to do a very quick last corner but it didn't pay off and it cost me half a second. I ended up with three for that mistake. I think it's going to be a good fight with Max up front and Fernando has been fast all weekend."

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton – who did not hide his frustration with his car after struggling in practice on Friday – was lifted by claiming fourth.

Mercedes team-mate George Russell had to settle for eighth, however, after a decision to go on slicks in Q3 failed to pay off.

Sebastian Vettel does not believe there has been a "changing of the guard" in Formula One, saying older drivers would thrive with "the right tools" 

Max Verstappen won his first F1 world title last season, dethroning Lewis Hamilton in the most dramatic fashion in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull's Verstappen leads Charles Leclerc by nine points in the battle for the 2022 title, with the 37-year-old Hamilton sixth.

Vettel, 34, has picked up only five points for Aston Martin, while the 40-year-old Fernando Alonso having 10 points to his name

Verstappen, Leclerc and George Russell – all aged 24 – have emerged as a new generation of drivers with long careers ahead of them.

Four-time F1 champion Vettel says they are fortunate to have cars that enable them to challenge for victories. 

Asked about the young drivers coming through, the German told Stats Perform: "I think it very much depends how competitive your environment is.

"Obviously, usually you're saying that there's a changing of the guard, Lewis has been arguably fighting for the title until the very last lap last year, so it's not too long ago.

"I think it depends always on the situation you're in for sure. There's drivers that are a little bit older like Fernando and Lewis then myself, but I'm sure that you give us the right tools, we still can do the right work."

Vettel hopes Ferrari can give Leclerc every chance of winning his first F1 title.

He said: "Obviously, Charles is one of them and in a good car he deserves to be up there. Hopefully the car will be good enough for him to fight for the title this year until the end.

"We will see, throughout the field you have more that one or two drivers that will be able to battle for victories.

"But usually the right drivers get the right package at the right time, so I'm very happy for him and hopefully he has the car to do it until the end."

 

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Fernando Alonso will start the Spanish Grand Prix from the back of the grid after incurring a penalty for using his fourth power unit of the season.

Alonso qualified 17th for his home grand prix, blaming a "misunderstanding" in Q1 for his disappointing performance.

The Alpine driver, whose 2022 season has been defined by misfortune, suffered more bad luck ahead of the race.

Alpine changed the engine in Alonso's car, meaning he is now on his fourth different power unit at just the sixth race of the campaign.

That is one more than is permitted by the regulations, with the penalty sending him to 20th on the grid.

Two-time world champion Alonso has taken only two points from the first five races, suffering retirements in Saudi Arabia and at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

His team-mate Esteban Ocon, by contrast, has 24 points to his name.

Fernando Alonso claims seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton now knows how the other drivers feel, as Mercedes struggle to keep up with the pace-setters this season.

Hamilton, 37, won six of the seven titles leading into the 2021 season, but he appears incapable of getting back to the mountain top just now, with Mercedes so much slower than Ferrari and Red Bull.

Alonso, 40, won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, and after a strong run with Ferrari in the early 2010s, he struggled mightily after his move to McLaren, finishing 17th, 10th, 15th and 11th from 2015 to 2018.

After trying his hand at other racing disciplines in 2019 and 2020, Alonso returned to F1 with Alpine in 2021, where he is now partnered with Esteban Ocon as the two battle it out in the midfield with a car that cannot compete for wins.

Speaking to BBC Sport ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Alonso highlighted how often the success of a driver can be out of their hands, and expressed only limited sympathy for Hamilton's struggles this season.

"This is the nature of the sport," Alonso said. "Sometimes you have a better car, sometimes you have not such a good car and you still need to fight and make some progress.

"This year we see that the driver is very important in F1, but not crucial. Lewis is driving as good as he has been the last eight years. He was dominating the sport and breaking all the records and 100-and-something pole positions.

"Now he is doing a mega lap – as he said in Australia or somewhere like that – and he is one second behind. So, yeah – welcome."

Alonso compared his championship years to Hamilton's, saying often the true stars of the team are behind the scenes, while the drivers get to soak in all the glory.

"To have more than 100 pole positions in F1 is something unthinkable. You need to have the best car and package for many, many years," Alonso said.

"He deserves everything he's achieved in the past, but this year is a good reminder that in all those records and numbers, there is a big part on what you have in your hands as a package in the car."

In a show of respect for this generation's most successful driver, Alonso predicted Hamilton will rebound from a slow start and finish ahead of team-mate George Russell this season.

"George has been very fast in the last few years and I think everyone was expecting him to be a tough competitor for Lewis," Alonso said. "But I still believe Lewis will eventually finish the championship in front.

"This is just a five-race championship [so far], but eventually when things are more tricky or [there are] difficult situations, Lewis will still have more experience and maybe more talent."

Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer believes the team's Renault power unit is within 10 brake horsepower of the best on the grid.

A strong start to the 2022 Formula One season has seen Alpine score points in each of the first three races.

Esteban Ocon has finished in the points in every race, though Fernando Alonso has failed to do so in each of the last two events, suffering misfortune in Saudi Arabia and Australia.

After struggling with engine performance last season, the team at Renault's Viry-Chatillon powertrain division concentrated on delivering a major upgrade for 2022.

Szafnauer has been impressed with the work they have done, the strength of this year's engine carrying extra significance because of a development freeze in place until the end of 2025.

"We think we've made a step on the power unit," Szafnauer said. "And we're within probably 10bhp of the best, and somewhere in the middle.

"I think Viry have done a brilliant job. And it's up to us now to keep developing the car.

"So that [the development freeze] allows us to work closer with our power unit team to make some improvements that we might be able to make with architecture changes on the chassis.

"Some other things that are still free to us. But also to now focus with what we have to improve on the chassis for the future."

Alonso was forced to retire in Saudi Arabia after a water pump failure led his engine to overheat, with Alpine unable to save that unit.

He was on a lap that may have put him in contention for pole in Melbourne, only for an oil pressure drop to force his engine to shut down in Q3.

The two-time world champion was last among the 17 drivers to finish the race, having seen several strategy calls backfire.

"It was O-ring on an oil seal," said Szafnauer of Alonso's qualifying failure. "The O-ring fretted, the oil leaked out.

"We have a fail-safe mode to try to save the engine, so when you see a drop in oil pressure, the fail-safe mode kicked in. And that's what happened. So the fix was an O-ring change."

F1 returns to action in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix this weekend at Imola, where Ocon and Alonso finished ninth and 10th respectively last year.

Following an eventful, dramatic and – dare we say it – the best Formula One season to date, the 2022 campaign has plenty to live up to.

Lewis Hamilton is going in search of a record eighth world title at the second time of asking after missing out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the final race in 2021.

Reigning champion Verstappen is himself seeking some personal history this coming campaign, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Ahead of what will hopefully be an equally as gripping season this time around, Stats Perform picks out some of the key numbers.

 

Hamilton narrowly missed out on surpassing Michael Schumacher as F1's most successful driver, though he has not missed out on top spot in successive years since joining Mercedes in 2013.

Should he match his achievement from last year, Red Bull's Verstappen (25 years, two months) would surpass Fernandes Alonso (25y, 2m, 23 days) as the second-youngest multiple world champion, behind only Sebastian Vettel (24y, 3m).

Mercedes may have suffered disappointment last time out, but they still finished top of the constructors' standings for a record-extending eighth time in a row. They are one short of equalling Williams as the second-most successful team, though Ferrari (16) are still well out in front.

In terms of other team milestones, Bahrain will be the 250th GP Mercedes have competed in, while they are six fastest laps away from setting 100. McLaren, meanwhile, are seven podiums from reaching 500 in F1.

Joining Hamilton at Mercedes this season is compatriot George Russell, who along with McLaren's Lando Norris is aiming to become the first Briton other than Hamilton to win a race since Jenson Button in 2012.

Bottas is now at Alfa Romeo and is joined by Guanyu Zhou, who will be China's first ever representative on the grid, making them the 39th country to appear in F1. Indeed, it is the first time three Asian countries will be represented, with Alex Albon (Thailand) and Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) also featuring.

 

Now 14 years on from their most recent constructors' title, Ferrari will equal their worst-such streak – 15 years between 1984 and 1998 – if they again miss out this term.

Carlos Sainz is Ferrari's big hope and he has either matched or bettered his performance from the previous season – both in terms of points and position – over the past six years when racing for just one team.

While his title chances are slim at best, Fernando Alonso has the opportunity to become the driver with the biggest margin between F1 titles of all time, 16 years on from his most recent success. 

Twenty-two events are currently locked in the F1 calendar for this year, with Miami set to become the 77th different circuit used when it hosts its maiden GP in May. It will be the 11th different track used in the United States, which is the most of any country.

Sebastian Vettel claims he has already decided not to participate in September's Russian Grand Prix after Russia launched an attack on neighbouring Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to attack Ukraine comes just days after Moscow elected to recognise the independence of two breakaway regions in the east of the country, and has led to Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy severing diplomatic ties with Russia and declaring martial law in the country.

The attack has drawn widespread international condemnation, and has already impacted the sporting world, with UEFA likely to strip St Petersburg of May's Champions League final and the Ukrainian Premier League being suspended.

Now Vettel claims he has already made up his mind on whether he would participate in the Russian Grand Prix, currently scheduled for late September in Sochi.

"I woke up after this morning's news, [and was] shocked," the four-time Drivers' champion said.

"For myself, my opinion is I should not go, I will not go.

"I think it's wrong to race in the country. 

"I'm sorry for the innocent people that are losing their lives, that are getting killed for stupid reasons and [because of] a very, very strange and mad [Russian] leadership.

"I'm sure it's something we will talk about, but as the GPDA [Grand Prix Driver's Association, the trade union representing Formula One drivers], we haven't come together yet."

Aston Martin driver Vettel, who won four consecutive world championships between 2010 and 2013, has been a director of the GPDA since 2010, and has previously spoken out on several other issues, being reprimanded for donning a pride flag at last year's Hungarian Grand Prix, before hosting an all-women's karting race prior to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix later that year.

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso also called on Formula One to "do the best thing", while reigning world champion Max Verstappen echoed Vettel's sentiments. 

"When a country is at war it is not right to race there," Verstappen said on day two of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Formula One had earlier refused to comment on the potential for the race to be relocated, issuing a statement which claimed it "was closely watching the very fluid developments, and at this time has no further comment on the race," and added that it will "continue to monitor the situation very closely."

Fernando Alonso is relishing the new regulations in Formula One for 2022, saying they give teams hope that "everything can change".

Alpine released their new car for the year in Paris on Monday and the 40-year-old is in an optimistic mood.

The team finished fifth in the constructors' championship last season, with Esteban Ocon winning a dramatic race in Hungary.

Alonso hopes the varying new rules will help to level the playing field and make that kind of result more common.

"Second year with Alpine and yeah, I'm more optimistic than last year, probably because the new rules give you that hope that everything can change," Alonso said.

"You can certainly be competitive from race one. So, I'm optimistic, confident. The team did a good job with the car and we're ready to go.

"I'm very excited about the new regulations. Obviously, from time to time, Formula One change [the regulations] and try to mix a little bit of performance from everybody.  

"And for Alpine or some of the midfield teams that we were last year, there is an opportunity for sure. 

"If we do a good job interpreting the rules and maximising every opportunity, this year is going to be important. So, everyone in the team feels that we can do it and we are ready to go.

"Probably the best thing or the hope is that we can follow each other closer on track, so maybe that provides more action, more overtaking opportunities, close fights and that's probably better for everybody, for the show, for the spectators, but also for us drivers.

"We have been asking for closer racing between cars, especially in the corners. We will have to wait and see if these regulations allow closer racing, but I will never be upset with the idea of more exciting racing. 

"The sport is moving in the right direction off track too, thanks to the introduction of things like a budget cap. We hope it can bring more fairer racing to stop others outspending the rest."

While Ocon got the race win last year, he still finished behind veteran Alonso, who came 10th in the drivers' standings.

The Spaniard says he has a close bond with his younger team-mate.

Alonso added: "The relationship with Esteban has been better and better from race one last year.

"Until now, race one this year, over 2021 I think we had good fun together, we work together, and we understood that it's the best thing for the team and for the performance of ourselves as well. 

"And yet during the winter it was a long period that we didn't see each other so we were texting sometimes, and we have a WhatsApp group, and we were having fun and obviously missing each other a little bit.

"So now it's time to race again together and help the team to move forward.

"The new car – I really like the livery, I like the colours, the combination. Obviously, the technical side of it, we have to keep it secret and we have to first hit the track and see how it behaves."

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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