Spa-francorchamps: Two-times world champion Fernando Alonso has defended old rival Michael Schumacher's decision to return to Formula One - despite the former 'red baron's' disappointing results with the Mercedes team.
Spaniard Alonso enjoyed a close rivalry with Schumacher when the now 42-year-old German driver was close to the end of his long and successful spell with Ferrari and he was rising to fame and success with Renault.
In 2006, they were locked in a great battle for the title and Alonso came out on top after a dramatic last-race scrap for the championship at the season-closing Brazilian Grand Prix.
Asked to comment on Schumacher on the eve of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix and the 20th anniversary of the seven-times champion's debut in 1991, Alonso made clear he was not among the German's critics.
He said: "There are some critics of his return and his results, but I don't agree with those. No, not me - it is not the way that I think.
"Three years ago, Michael was watching F1 at home and now he is maybe finishing seventh or ninth, but I am sure that he is happy every morning because he is racing in F1 again - and that's what he wants to do.
"Twenty years is a long time. If I think of myself, it will be 2021 if I am in F1 for 20 years. I don't think that I could do that.
"So I want to congratulate him for these 20 years and tell him that it's a pleasure to race against him."
Alonso added that he believed Schumacher's record of seven world championships and 91 wins may never be equalled and said he felt he understood why he wanted to return after he had retired.
He said: "I have great respect for Michael. He is one of the greatest of the greatest in the history of the sport; the numbers are maybe impossible to repeat for any one of us.
"I will always remember all of the battles with him and it was a privilege to drive against Michael. It will always be a good thing to remember.
"I'm sure that he missed the adrenaline, he missed the F1 show and he decided to come back because watching a TV is probably not easy when you are Michael.
"Now, in the second part of his career, obviously the car is not competitive enough to win races, but I'm sure that he's still enjoying it."