Lewis Hamilton has admitted to being pleasantly surprised by Fernando Alonso's claim that he will be the one to watch in pre-season testing, having struggled for form in 2011.
The Briton, who endured a fractious relationship with Alonso during their season together at McLaren in 2007, admitted that he would not have expected anyone to tip him as a threat for next season based on what has happened in 2011. Citing 'personal issues' as a distraction throughout the past couple of years, Hamilton has won just twice this season, with such performances surrounded by a litany of questionable on-track moments and visits to the stewards' office.
Despite that, Alonso was quoted as warning the F1 field to watch out for the McLaren driver in pre-season testing ahead of the 2012 campaign, telling the Italian press that Hamilton was 'the only driver able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best'.
"Hamilton did not have a super season this year, who knows whether it was due to the Pirelli tyres or the fact that, with blown diffusers now, driving has changed," the Spaniard mused, "On top of that, [Jenson] Button is having a great year. All of this concurred to give the impression that his season hasn't been so good.
"But let's consider India, when he took second place in qualifying. It's like soccer: if Real Madrid or Barcelona are not performing particularly well on a given season, that does not mean that they're not top league. In fact, at the next winter testing, [Hamilton] will be the only one I'll be watching closely. The other guys can win if they've got the best car; he's the one who's able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best."
The comments, while taking a little while to register, clearly went down well with Hamilton.
"I'm blown away that Fernando is so positive towards me, despite my season and also despite the differences we've had," the 26-year old admitted after the opening day of practice in Abu Dhabi, "It's nice to know that I've got support from some drivers."
The Briton, who is only fifth in the current standings and hoping to end a series of well-publicised clashes with Alonso's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, claimed that, since Alonso left McLaren to return to Renault in 2008, their relationship has got steadily better, with respect now mutual.
"I think our friendship and the respect we have for each other has got a lot stronger," Hamilton confirmed, "It's nice to see that coming out because I have only ever said he is one of the best drivers - if not the
best driver - here."