Lewis Hamilton sprung Fernando Alonso surprise he ‘couldn’t imagine’ says ex-Mercedes boss

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Lewis Hamilton’s stellar rookie season in F1 came as a surprise to everyone – even the man who preceded Toto Wolff at Mercedes. The Briton was expected to play second fiddle to two-time world champion Fernando Alonso after stepping up to the sport with McLaren in 2007, but proved himself a more-than-worthy adversary for the Spaniard.

After finishing on the podium in each of his first five races, Hamilton won back-to-back Grand Prix in Canada and the United States to prove he could fight among the big boys from the very off.

It led to a tense relationship between the the youngster and his much more experienced team-mate, though, as Alonso had not expected to be rivalled by his junior colleague so soon in his career.

They ended up finishing level on 109 points at the end of that campaign, both one point behind champion Kimi Raikkonen who took advantage of the rivalry between the pair to steal the trophy from under their noses.

Hamilton would almost certainly have become the world champion in his debut season had it not been for a disastrous climax.

He retired from the Chinese Grand Prix after an error entering the wet pit lane caused him to become beached in the gravel, before finishing seventh in Brazil on the final day after a scrap with Alonso and a gearbox issue.

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Norbert Haug, the outgoing vice-president of Mercedez-Benz Motorsport when Hamilton’s later switch to the German car maker’s F1 team was confirmed, said it was a shock to everyone to see him keeping pace with Alonso.

“Fernando Alonso provided the best example,” he told Servus TV this week after Hamilton had sealed his 100th win in the sport.

“He just couldn’t imagine a rookie going as fast as a two-time world champion. But it was like that with Lewis back then.”

While Haug was quick to point out that Hamilton has had the best car on the grid ever since the hybrid era began, he hailed the Briton’s achievements in the sport and tipped his tense title fight with Max Verstappen to go down to the wire.

“Lewis has achieved his 100 victories in 15 years and 281 appearances,” the German said.

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“So, on average, he won almost every third race. Even if he often had the best car, that is extremely remarkable.

“[Hamilton and Verstappen] believe in themselves. If a driver doubts himself, there are immediate opportunities for the others.

“The real top drivers like Hamilton and Verstappen in 2021 both have this absolute trust – ‘nobody beats me’.”

Just two points separate the pair with seven races to go in the current season.

Verstappen is bidding to win the world championship for the first time, while Hamilton’s goal is to claim his eighth title and go clear of Michael Schumacher, with whom he currently shares the record for most championship wins.

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