Flavio Briatore told ESPNF1.com that Sebastian Vettel is only the third-best driver in Formula One today.
It’s an interesting view, and somewhat provocative, given that Vettel has just secured his second consecutive world championship and at a younger age than Alonso—the previous youngest.
Then again, Briatore manages Alonso, so it isn’t all that surprising that he would have Alonso as the best in the field.
Most pundits would have those three drivers in the top three, although it seems an odd time to come out in favour of Hamilton, who appears to have lost his mojo in the second half of the 2011 season. He has been eclipsed by teammate Jenson Button and has surrounded himself in controversy.
Vettel, however, is a young man at the top of his game. For the early part of the season, the Red Bull RB7 was clearly the superior car, despite an early victory for Hamilton in China.
However, the gap has closed in the second half of the season, and the RB7 is fairly evenly matched with its McLaren rival.
Briatore does graciously concede that Vettel is the best man for a one-lap flier, hence the qualifying domination, but he maintains that no one can stay with Alonso in a fair race.
Of course, the beauty of a grand statement like that is it can never be proven wrong.
There is no likelihood of all three drivers ever competing in identical cars.
Indeed, we have seen that Alonso cannot cope in a team where he is not the clearly-designated No. 1 driver. We only have to look back to 2007 when he was embarrassed by a young upstart in the form of Hamilton.
The histrionics that ensued, with the accusations of sabotage and preferential treatment, were embarrassing for a driver widely regarded to be the best in the field at that time.
Then again, Briatore is not a man renowned for his deep introspection and carefully-considered, moderate statements. Like the company with whom he made fame and fortune—Benetton—he is bold, brash and occasionally gets on people’s nerves.
It’s easy to get the impression that Briatore is still smarting over his ignominious exit from F1 amidst the Renault crash controversy, and that he feels the need to remind people that he still has something to contribute—by making a big, controversial statement.
After only three rounds of this year’s championship, he boldly proclaimed that Ferrari should forget about 2011 and concentrate on delivering his man a competitive car in 2012.
Turns out, he was probably correct about the Ferrari. But, perhaps not so much about Vettel.
Only time will tell.