By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Four times Formula One world champion Alain Prost says he can see Lewis Hamilton stretching his own title tally to an easy eight, judging from the first two races of the season.
Hamilton already has six, one short of Ferrari great Michael Schumacher's record, but Mercedes won the opening Austrian rounds of a season delayed by COVID-19 and the rules are unchanged next year.
Prost said Hamilton, whose victory in last Sunday's Styrian Grand Prix was the 85th of his career, was only getting stronger.
"The more stable he is in a team, the more stable he is in his life, you can see that he is better," the 65-year-old Renault F1 adviser told Reuters on Wednesday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
"To beat Lewis for a world championship, especially with that car and the team he has now, is going to be very difficult. Almost impossible in normal circumstances," added the Frenchman, representing the team's Dubai-based title sponsor DP World.
Asked how many titles the 35-year-old might ultimately claim, Prost -- whose fourth in 1993 was something extraordinary at the time -- considered the evidence.
"He has six. I would say eight, easy," he declared.
"I cannot see anybody (else) winning this year. Maybe (team mate and championship leader) Valtteri (Bottas). It depends how many races you have and if you miss one or two because you have a mechanical problem, you never know. He’s in the same car.
"But... I cannot see another car winning (a championship) against a Mercedes this year and next year. After, I don’t know. Maybe Renault."
Renault's 2005 and 2006 world champion Fernando Alonso is returning next year after two seasons out and Prost expected the Spaniard, who turns 39 later this month, to be still as fiercely competitive and motivated.
"Fernando was one of the three top drivers we were talking to – Sebastian (Vettel) and Valtteri also. But Valtteri is driving a Mercedes, it’s difficult for him to leave the Mercedes team at the moment," said Prost.
"We did not know exactly what was the motivation of Sebastian... but Fernando has always shown his motivation to come back to the team. Even last year, in Abu Dhabi we had a long discussion with him."
Alonso will replace Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who is moving to McLaren next year. Four times champion Vettel faces an uncertain future, with Ferrari announcing his departure at the end of this year.
Prost said he could see Alonso was fired up for a new challenge after difficult years with McLaren following disappointment in five years at Ferrari.
"What happened with Fernando and different teams was my biggest problem and question mark. I talked to Fernando many times about that," he said.
"I really trust him that he’s going to have another philosophy. Two years outside Formula One in my opinion was maybe not bad for him to have a different feeling, different view.
"He knows what he’s going to get in terms of performance of the car, he knows that 2021 is also going to be a little bit difficult. He’s prepared for that... I really think he’s going to be very different than people understand."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)