Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso; the 3 world champions that currently remain on the F1 grid each laying down an enduring legacy that has gone on to define each of their respective eras in Formula 1. Over the years we’ve been given glimpses into what a battle of the champions would look like, from Alonso and Hamilton in 2007, to Verstappen and Hamilton in 2021 and now the possibility of Verstappen and Alonso in the near future, these seasons have gone on to become universal classics within the sport and have produced some of the most iconic rivalries and races in F1’s recent history. There’s no denying that each of these drivers will be solidified as F1 legends once they decide to walk away from the track, but if they were all put into the exact same car who would come out on top?
It makes sense to start with the reigning champion, Max Verstappen, as we return to Barcelona this weekend where he took his maiden F1 win for Redbull in 2016. Verstappen’s frighteningly dominant season is sure to see him wrap up the 2023 championship quite comfortably as it would take some sort of miracle for anyone to come close to him this year. The monstrous RB19 has raised the bar for every other team on the grid serving as the benchmark of what is possible in this new era of F1 regulations, but when this car is paired with Verstappen it has proved to be an untouchable combination with Verstappen himself admitting that Redbull in principle have the potential to win every race this season. So far, Redbull have kept up this record taking every single win of the 2023 season with Verstappen leading 4-2 to Perez.
Comparing a driver to their teammate is often regarded as the ultimate test as each driver is given the exact same car and resources, meaning that the only differentiating factor comes down to the raw skill of the driver. When looking at Perez this year there was an initial buzz that caught traction as he took victory in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan leading to his most competitive start to a Formula 1 season. The back-to-back wins started to open up the conversation of Checo bringing the fight to Verstappen this year but that optimism has rapidly faded following the awe-inspiring performances that we’ve seen from Verstappen in the subsequent races since Checo’s last win. When considering who the best driver is in F1, it’s hard to look past Verstappen as he seems to be in a league of his own at the moment.
If there’s any driver that can step up and challenge Verstappen in 2023, it has to be Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s return to F1 in 2021 was hotly anticipated with no one fully knowing exactly what kind of form he would be in, over the past 2 years he has consistently proved that he is still at the top of his game and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. It seems almost bewildering that in 2023 there is a realistic possibility of seeing Alonso return to his race winning ways and possibly capture a third title within the next few years. It’s now become routine to see Alonso on the podium at the end of a race on Sunday, with him achieving his highest finish with Aston Martin of P2 at Monaco this past weekend, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Alonso captures that elusive 33rd race win and this year may be the year. There’s no doubt that he is still able to go wheel to wheel with the best as he’s managed to close in on Perez with only a 12-point deficit separating P2 and P3 in the Drivers’ standings, when you take into account the discrepancy between the RB19 and the AMR23, it’s obvious that the Redbull’s should be clear of every other team but somehow Alonso has managed to reel in at least one Redbull and may be looking at a P2 finish by the end of the season.
The final driver that we have to talk about is Lewis Hamilton, statistically the greatest F1 driver of all time and we don’t have to go back too far to find out why. We’ve seen time and time again what Hamilton is capable of in a championship battle as the now infamous 2021 season brought the best out of both Hamilton and Verstappen taking the fight right down to the last lap of the last race. The hold that Hamilton and Mercedes had over the sport from 2014-2020 was unparalleled as they made their record-breaking success look easy. We haven’t been able to get as good a grasp on where Hamilton lines up against Verstappen and Alonso this year as Mercedes have experienced a few teething problems heading into this new era of F1, relegating them further down the grid and pushing the performance of Hamilton into the background. As previously mentioned comparing a driver to their teammate will always provide a reliable point of comparison for where they’re at or will it? Last year Hamilton ended up finishing the season behind Russell who made his season debut for the Mercedes team but they were quick to confirm that Hamilton was trusted with testing out various experimental setups in the first half of the season leading to a string of poor results that were not encountered by Russell. Whilst we don’t know the extent of these setups and the exact impact that they would’ve had on Hamilton in comparison to Russell, it did become evident in the second half that he was comfortably outdriving his younger teammate.
So, if all three were put in the same car in their prime who would come out on top, my pick is Alonso. The poor decisions that Alonso made during his career undoubtedly capped his potential with the cars that he was given but on track he was able to outdrive every single car that he jumped into. He’s pulled cars onto podiums and race wins *Ferrari* that had no place being there and I find it hard to believe that we would’ve seen the same result if anyone else had been in the car. Even when you look at the current state of F1 I think that if Aston Martin manage to close the gap to Redbull over the next couple of years I could see Alonso beating Verstappen to a championship . The numbers don’t do justice to Alonso’s talent nor the performances that he has displayed over the past 2 decades and although Aston Martin won’t be taking the championship this year, will Alonso be able to take a step closer this weekend at his home grand prix and claim his first win since Spain 2013?