Mark Webber has credited Fernando Alonso for 'continuing to defy the odds' in F1 as the two-time champion prepares for his 20th season in the sport at the age of 41.
Alonso begins another chapter in his remarkable career following a winter switch from Alpine to Aston Martin, a move that sparked a memorable driver merry-go-round in the eyes of former Red Bull driver Webber.
The Spanish driver replaces Sebastian Vettel after the four-time champion revealed last summer he would be retiring.
“The domino effect with Seb stopping, that was not maybe a huge surprise but, obviously, the ginormous surprise was Fernando leaving," said Webber, speaking to Speedcafe.
"That was when it all started to kick off because the year before there was only one seat change with Zhou Guanyu [joining Alfa Romeo as the replacement for Antonio Giovinazzi].
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“So the market can be very stable and frustratingly stable in that sense, which it was at the end of 2021 when Oscar [Piastri] should have gone up.
“This time, when one guy moved, as Fernando did, it opened right up."
Alonso "a bit of sport to watch"
Piastri, who is managed by Webber, finally secured himself a race seat by joining McLaren following a tug-of-war with Alpine who had fully expected the Australian to step in for Alonso.
The 21-year-old is one of three rookies on the grid, alongside AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries and Williams' Logan Sargeant.
Whilst Webber is naturally excited to see the young blood coming through, for the Channel 4 pundit, it is Alonso who still catches the eye.
“There are going to be a lot of fresh driver line-ups," added Webber. "The honeymoon period goes over pretty quickly.
“We’ve got the test and the new dicing of the teams, but I think the top three will still be very strong, and then the rest, from fourth to seventh, will be very tight.
“It’s always good to see the rookies. Fresh blood coming in is good for the sport.
“But at the other end of the scale, to see Fernando still going, he just continues to defy the odds at that level for his age. That’s a bit of sport to watch as well.
“And Lewis [Hamilton], we’ll see how the Mercedes comes out. That will be pivotal as part of his motivation to continue to show the quality that he’s got if Mercedes can get it right.”