Fernando Alonso says Max Verstappen has been the superior driver in F1 title battle with Lewis Hamilton

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ABU DHABI -- Fernando Alonso believes Max Verstappen deserves to win the championship more than Lewis Hamilton because he's been "one step ahead" of every other Formula One driver this year.

Verstappen and Hamilton are in a winner-takes-all situation at this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as they are level on points at the final race of the season.

Alonso, a two-time world champion, battled Hamilton in a controversial title fight in 2007 and again in 2010. He returned to the grid this year with Alpine after two years away from F1 and said on Thursday ahead of the title decider he has been impressed with Verstappen's title challenge.

Alonso referenced Verstappen's lap at the end of Q3 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last weekend. Verstappen had looked set for a incredible and dominant pole position until he crashed at the final corner, leading some pundits to label it once of the "greatest laps that never was".

Asked who he thinks will emerge victorious this weekend, Alonso said: "Mercedes lately I think is a little bit more performing and they won a couple of races now but Max is driving, in my opinion, one step ahead of all of us.

"We saw the lap in Jeddah until he touched the wall in the last corner. That lap was coming from Max, not the Red Bull so I think in a way, but that's my opinion.

"Mercedes, they deserve the constructors' championship because I think the car is superior and Max maybe overall in the year was driving one step ahead of everyone."

He added: "It's not that I support Max, I think he deserves it or he was driving, in my opinion as I said, everyone has a different opinion, I think he was driving that Red Bull to another level.

"I think no advice because they are very well prepared, they are committed, they are fast, they are professional, no mistakes, both of them driving at the limits so I think it's very interesting to watch from the outside. They are very well prepared and that's good."

Thursday's media day was dominated by this weekend's championship decider, with some allegiances split and some refusing to get drawn in to making a prediction.

Some drivers gave very obvious answers to the question. AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, both supported by Red Bull, backed Verstappen, while Mercedes 2022 driver George Russell backed future teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Gasly referenced the potential for a collision between the pair, joking: "I'm not sure they will finish the race! But I think Max will have the edge."

While Verstappen is going for his first championship, another title for Hamilton would make him the all-time leader in that category. He and Michael Schumacher are currently tied with seven at the top of the list.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, a boyhood Schumacher fan, said he would like his fellow German to keep his spot at the top of that list.

Vettel clarified that deep down he just hopes the better driver wins on the day.

"Michael is my hero," Vettel said. "For that reason, I probably don't want Lewis to win.

"But the truth is that they have both had a strong season and they are going into the last race with the opportunity to win the championship because they both deserve it. In a way, I would be happy if Michael's record still stands, but even if Lewis wins, to me, Michael is still the greatest.

"Lewis can win one more, two more, three more, five more championships, it doesn't change anything for me, and I get along with Lewis.

"So probably the gut says I want Max to win just to keep Michael's record alive. But my head is quite clear -- may the better man win."