As two of the greatest World Champions in Formula 1 history, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are the best of enemies.
Their tales will forever be linked after the single season they spent together at McLaren in 2007, when both men were caught in the middle of – and, in their own ways, sometimes conducted – the storm that swallowed the team whole.
Still competing at the front today for Mercedes and Aston Martin respectively – with Hamilton aged 38 and Alonso fast approaching his 42nd birthday – a mutual respect exists between the pair despite their occasional attempts to discredit each other’s achievements through the media.
No matter where your allegiances may lie, never lose sight of just how fortunate we are to witness Alonso and Hamilton out on track.
Both drivers have made many their opponents cry for mercy over the years and, here, we present a statistical breakdown of their records against their F1 team-mates as part of an attempt to answer a simple question: if you were an F1 driver, who would you least like to see on the other side of the garage out of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso?
Fernando Alonso, 2007
Admirers of Hamilton like to say he beat Alonso in 2007, Lewis’s higher number of P2s putting him ahead of Fernando in the standings, but the raw numbers paint a far more nuanced picture.
Still, if he could match the reigning double World Champion in just his debut season, just how much stronger would he get in the years to come?
Heikki Kovalainen, 2008-09
Stung by 2007, McLaren wanted an easier life and opted for a support driver for Hamilton going forward. Heikki Kovalainen, though often uninspiring, met the remit nicely, collecting a victory when Hamilton and Felipe Massa both ran into trouble late at Hungary 2008.
Jenson Button, 2010-12
Jenson Button was warned he was entering the lion’s den when he left World Champions Brawn GP for McLaren at the end of 2009. Jenson caught Hamilton at a good time, becoming the first team-mate to outscore him over a season in 2011 as Lewis began to question his surroundings.
Nico Rosberg, 2013-16
Rosberg was the itch that could not be scratched, Mercedes’ position as F1’s dominant team in the early years of the hybrid era making him an ever-present threat.
All the baggage that comes with a childhood friend becoming a sworn enemy was a tool Nico used to his advantage, but Lewis’s resounding victory in the wins column combined with some of the gaps between them in qualifying – half a second at Monza in 2016 to take one example – revealed a clear gulf in natural ability.
Valtteri Bottas, 2017-21
For Kovalainen, read Bottas. Relations at Mercedes were calm again as Hamilton, having learned a trick or two from Rosberg’s ability to optimise the team around him, was elevated to a whole new level of performance – possibly the highest ever seen by a single F1 driver – in his former friend’s absence.
George Russell, 2022-present
Very much a younger version of Button, did George Russell catch Hamilton at a good time?
He graduated to Mercedes at the opportune moment when Hamilton’s wounds from Abu Dhabi 2021 were nicely salted by the most troublesome car of his career in 2022.
The 2023 car wasn’t much better, but Hamilton hit back hard.
Tarso Marques, 2001
Making his debut for the lowly Minardi team, Alonso could only do what he could. Dominating and quickly dispatching Tarso Marques made for a fine start.
Alex Yoong, 2001
Driving the second Minardi for the closing rounds of 2001, Alex Yoong got the Marques treatment. The closest he came to Fernando in three qualifying sessions? 1.2 seconds.
Jarno Trulli, 2003-04
Jarno Trulli was renowned for his pace over a single lap and provided a good benchmark for Alonso following Fernando’s rise to a full-time Renault seat. His day of days at Monaco 2004 ensured he equalled his team-mate’s victory tally, but Alonso’s greater long-term potential had already become obvious when the Trulli train departed for Toyota.
Jacques Villeneuve, 2004
Taking Trulli’s seat for the final three races of ’04, Jacques Villeneuve’s Renault stint underlined the difference between a Champion whose glory days were behind him and one whose best were yet to come.
Giancarlo Fisichella, 2005-06
Giancarlo Fisichella was a well-respected racer when he joined Renault, but his two seasons alongside Alonso was a case of a good driver versus a great one. Renault would be frustrated by Fisi’s tendency to fall asleep mid-race – a criticism one could never level at his team-mate.
Lewis Hamilton, 2007
2007 taught as much about Alonso’s own limitations, at that stage of his career at least, as Hamilton’s enormous potential. Fernando struggled to adapt to the Carbon Industrie brakes and Bridgestone tyres he found at McLaren and did not respond to the Hamilton challenge as well as many had expected.
Nelson Piquet Jr, 2008-09
Let’s put a great big asterisk against one of those wins, shall we? Piquet was blown away by Alonso, who outqualified him for all 18 races of 2008, and triggered the crash that served up his controversial win in Singapore on a plate. Nevertheless, it was around this time that Fernando cemented his status as F1’s most complete driver.
Romain Grosjean, 2009
As the ramifications of Crashgate shook the title-sponsor-less Renault team to the core, a long-haired Romain Grosjean was helpless in the second car even as Ferrari-bound Alonso began to check out.
Felipe Massa, 2010-13
Ferrari wept with Massa in Brazil in 2008, but the Prancing Horse had found a new hero with Alonso’s arrival in 2010. As Fernando became the focal point of two spirited title tilts, Massa was left to do his own thing.
Kimi Raikkonen, 2014
Alonso versus Kimi, 10 years too late? Raikkonen plainly couldn’t drive the 2014 car as Ferrari made a false start to F1’s hybrid era, Fernando made the best of the bad hand he was dealt to magic two podiums out of nowhere in China and Hungary.
Jenson Button, 2015-16
Did the inter-team battle matter anymore when it became obvious that McLaren-Honda were in crisis in 2015? Button, all guile and experience, measured up reasonably well against Alonso. But, in these circumstances, who really cared?
Stoffel Vandoorne, 2017-18
Stoffel Vandoorne was regarded as a potential future Formula 1 Champion when he became GP2 Champion in 2015. He was dumped by McLaren after two seasons in 2018 at the end of a campaign in which he lost 21-0 in the qualifying head-to-head battle. Ouch.
Esteban Ocon, 2021-22
Esteban Ocon ended Enstone’s long wait for a victory at Hungary 2021, but Alonso would be the first to point out his pivotal role in holding up Hamilton’s Mercedes. Renowned for his combative relationship with team-mates, Ocon chose to fight fire with fire – and, with the help of Alonso’s 2022 reliability woes, came out on top.
Lance Stroll, 2023-present
With his father owning the Aston Martin team, life alongside Lance Stroll presents a unique test of Alonso’s personality.
Starting the season with six podiums in eight races and adding two more after the summer break, his latest – likely last – F1 adventure has began better than even he had dared to dream.
Decision time: Alonso or Hamilton?
What’s the hardest job in Formula 1? Being Max Verstappen’s team-mate.
What’s the second-hardest job in Formula 1? Being Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate. ‘Being Fernando Alonso’s team-mate’ sits somewhere in between.
Hamilton has the ability to dazzle any team-mate, but the decent returns for Button, Rosberg, Bottas and now Russell alongside him over the years hints at a slight lack of ruthlessness compared to other F1 greats.
On the right day and in the right circumstances, when the car is not quite how he wants it or the conditions in qualifying call for more abrupt inputs to generate tyre temperature, Lewis can – for want of a better word – be got at.
If only rarely, he tends to give his team-mates a chance. Or at least a little respite from time to time.
Even if natural speed has never been his greatest strength, meanwhile, can the same really be said of Fernando?
Take a look at Alonso proudly grinning as he refers to himself as “the bad guy, again” in the 2023 edition of Drive to Survive and it becomes clear that this is someone who relishes the role of The Destroyer, taking pleasure from tearing his team-mates apart limb by limb and rubbing their faces in the dirt as he does so.
Fisichella, Piquet, Massa and Vandoorne – even Kimi – weren’t so much team-mates as victims. They were not beaten, but punished.
Is all this meant to be a compliment?
Maybe. Not sure.
But you can be sure that you wouldn’t want to try your luck against Alonso.
Which, when you think about it, makes it all the more impressive that Hamilton, as a 22-year-old rookie, did – and lived to tell the tale.
All figures correct as of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix