Fernando Alonso has put his support behind Max Verstappen, who he claims is the best driver on the grid at the moment, even ahead of reigning Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. The Dutch driver is currently leading the 2021 title race having battled the Mercedes driver for supremacy in the 14 races thus far.

Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo are the only three drivers to have stepped on the top step of the podium apart from the two title contenders in the 14 races this season. The Red Bull Racing driver has taken seven victories to Hamilton's four, but they remain separated by just five points going into the 15th round in Sochi this weekend.

After falling short in recent years, Red Bull have mounted a consistent challenge this season, and Verstappen has also made fewer errors to ensure he is up there collecting valuable points even if he is not winning. Alonso believes the level shown by Verstappen this season makes him the favourite for the title not only in 2021 but in the seasons ahead as well.

"I think he is on top of the game at the moment, I consider him the best in the paddock right now," Alonso told Racing News 365. "His improvement was very noticeable in the first couple of years. He started already at a high level but, sometimes, making a few accidents here and there, maybe too much aggression in some of the movements and things like that."

"Now, I think he reached a level of maturity that is very high and, with his natural speed, it becomes quite difficult to beat him now for anyone. So I think he's the favourite for this year and probably for the years to come."

Alonso also warned drivers potentially thinking about joining Red Bull to take on Verstappen in familiar surroundings. The two-time F1 world champion stated that he would "not be happy" to go up against the Dutch racer in a Red Bull, even more so than taking on Hamilton in a Mercedes.

"At the moment, he's the only one that I will not be happy to maybe compete [with]," the Spaniard added.

"I respect Max a lot. So, at the moment in the Red Bull environment with his team, with his experience there, I don't think that many drivers can join Red Bull and beat Max. If you took Max out of Red Bull, maybe you [would] have a better chance."

Max Verstappen
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was a winner in Austria last year William WEST/AFP