Formula 1 presenter Tom Clarkson revealed there was a “lovely moment” of “genuine respect” between Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso that went uncaptured by cameras after a gruelling qualfying session in Monaco on Saturday.
The Red Bull and Aston Martin drivers had just gone toe-to-toe in the battle for pole position around Formula 1’s tightest circuit, with Verstappen somehow overturning a two-tenth deficit to Alonso in the final sector to steal top spot on the grid in one of the most memorable qualifying sessions in the sport for a long while.
Alonso came agonisingly close to a first pole in almost 11 years, admitting he took “uncomfortable risks” on his lap to try and beat Verstappen around Monte Carlo, but he finished just 0.084s shy of the benchmark set by the World Championship leader on Saturday.
It was clear that the two had expended every ounce of energy in trying to get every bit of lap time they could in the most important qualifying session of the season, given how critical track position is in Monaco, and the mutual respect between the two was clear to see after the session.
That extended to the post-qualifying press conference too, where Clarkson hosts the drivers’ media duties – and he picked up on a small moment between the two double World Champions that typified the acknowledgement of what they had gone through under pressure on Saturday, though it went unnoticed by the cameras.
“There was a lovely moment in the press conference after qualifying,” Clarkson said on the F1 Nation podcast.
“So they’ve only been out of the cars, say, five minutes, they have a quick chat on the grid. Then they come to the press conference and Fernando came in first, and he sat down in his chair and he sort of was slumped a little bit – and you could see he was just, I think, reflecting on what he had just done.
“Max was the next driver to arrive, and they just sort of, I’m not going to say it was a hug, but they just sort of squeezed each other’s shoulders and didn’t say a word to each other.
“This is before all the cameras were turned on, and right there, I saw a mutual respect between those two that is that is not often seen, I think, in Formula 1.
“As I say, no words were exchanged, but just genuine respect about what they had just done over one lap of Monaco – and I would say I haven’t seen two better laps of that track in 25 years than what we saw from Alonso and Verstappen in qualifying.”
Clarkson was joined on the panel by former F1 drivers Alex Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa, who explained that those moments of calm after the heat of battle between two of the best in the business are a part of what makes the sport what it is – and that Alonso and Verstappen are cut from the same cloth in some ways.
“These are the beautiful moments when you witness top people who are very strong rivals still knowing that out there, they just gave it all,” Wurz added.
“And it was exhausting, it is tiring, even though it’s just one lap, and they know both what they left on the track was all they had – and it was very close.
“Being able to go such a high limit and extract everything there, you’ve just witnessed a beautiful moment. That’s why we love sports so much.”
De la Rosa continued: “I would add that the respect was there, there’s a huge rivalry, but deep inside both of them, above all, they enjoy what they’re doing.
“They felt like they had a massive good time, they felt exhausted in a good way because they had just delivered their best, and they had had a lot of fun.
“But also they know each other very well, they are good mates, I would say, or have a good relationship.
“Both know that they are very similar. They have very similar personalities, their approach to motor racing is similar. I think that builds on that huge respect they have for each other.”