Mika Hakkinen thinks that Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were in a league of their own with their performances in the Qatar Grand Prix.
Hamilton took a dominant victory at the Losail International Circuit, having rarely been challenged throughout after starting from pole position. Meanwhile Verstappen worked his way up from P7 on the grid to claim second place, as well as securing an extra point for taking the fastest lap.
Hakkinen was impressed by the recovery drive from Verstappen, with the Dutchman having been given a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for double waved yellow flags during qualifying, but thinks that both drivers were exemplary in Sunday's race.
"After the dramas in Brazil, it was Max's turn to take a grid penalty in Qatar as a result of failing to slow down for a double-yellow flag - one of Formula 1's most important safely rules, which requires drivers to slow down and be prepared to stop," Hakkinen wrote in his column for Unibet.
"Just like Lewis did in Brazil, Max recovered quickly in the race, moving into fourth place on the first lap. The World Championship rivals were on another level, the competition far behind."
Whilst Hakkinen rated the performances of both Hamilton and Verstappen, it is Hamilton who he believes to now have the edge in the title fight, despite Verstappen still holding an eight-point lead in the Drivers' standings.
"If Formula 1 was a tennis match I would say that it was 'advantage Hamilton' following his dominant wins in Brazil and Qatar," Hakkinen explained
"Although Max Verstappen leads the World Championship by eight points, Mercedes have responded by giving Lewis Hamilton a car with which he can really fight to defend his title.
"On Sunday Lewis was totally in control following his strong qualifying performance. His Mercedes did not have same straight-line speed advantage he enjoyed in Brazil, when he took a new engine, but through Qatar's sweeping curves his car had a clear advantage over his Red Bull-Honda rival."
Red Bull/AlphaTauri partnership
With the battle continuing into the final two races of the season, Hakkinen believes that Red Bull could try to utilise the support of sister team AlphaTauri where possible.
"It was interesting to see Pierre Gasly help Max to gain another position," the two-time World Champion said.
"It's sometimes easy to forget that Red Bull owns two Formula 1 teams and, with the championship at stake, we should not be surprised that Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri are going to work together when the need arises.
"Max pushed hard, but Lewis was already four seconds ahead when the Red Bull driver moved into second position. This really was a controlled performance from Lewis, and he covered off any attempt by Red Bull to put his strategy under pressure."
F1 Podcast: Is it game over for Red Bull after Hamilton's Qatar domination?
Does Lewis Hamilton's recent run of form against Max Verstappen now make him the favourite to claim the title? F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Thomas Maher and Mike Seymour discuss this and more in the latest episode of the RacingNews365 podcast!