Fernando Alonso has revealed who he would like to see claim the 2018 Formula One World Drivers' Championship as former nemesis Lewis Hamilton prepares to mount a defence of his British-record fourth title.
Anticipation for the latest global F1 marathon has now begun to build in earnest, with a lengthy four-month break officially set to end on 25 March at the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Pre-season testing is scheduled to commence at the Circuit de Catalunya in 12 days' time.
Double world champion Alonso enters the new campaign with renewed hope after three years of consistent disappointment, with McLaren's MCL33 powered by Renault after the end of a tumultuous partnership with engine providers Honda, who have now joined forces with Toro Rosso.
During a wide-ranging interview with AS in which he also discussed his decision to race in the World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans, his recent appearance at the Daytona 24 Hours and his future beyond motorsport among other topics, the revered Spaniard unsurprisingly named teammate Stoffel Vandoorne as the driver he would choose to win the world championship.
Alonso then offered compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr of Renault as a non-McLaren alternative and insisted that he "doesn't have any preference" when it comes to potential winners outside of his own team who do not hail from Spain.
Pushed that another triumph for Mercedes' Hamilton, whose potential future return to McLaren was recently discussed by executive director Zak Brown, would be incredible for the sport, he replied: "Right now, yes, because he won last year, but two years ago it could have been Rosberg, who ended as champion. And a few years ago, someone else. I don't know."
Alonso, who will debut the MCL33 on day one of testing in Barcelona, claimed to still know little about the new Renault-powered McLaren and said he hopes to discover more in the middle of February on his first visit to the team factory in Woking since December.
"We're going to be much more competitive," he responded to premature talk of podiums in 2018. "I don't know how much. Last year Red Bull looked like they were going to be strong due to the change in the rules and yet they had a slow start; [Max] Verstappen was forced to abandon a few races, they had less laps than us halfway through the year and for the expectations on Red Bull, that's a big blow.
"You always get asked if you are going to have a car... but if you start badly, it's a huge comedown so we can't anticipate anything. What I can say is that expectations are higher now than they have been during the past three years. The atmosphere at the factory is more positive, everyone is determined to go that extra bit further because we all want to be much more competitive and I think we will be."