Lewis Hamilton says Fernando Alonso is the toughest driver he has faced over his Formula 1 career as he prepares to make his 300th grand prix start this weekend.

Hamilton will become only the sixth driver to reach the landmark on Sunday at the French Grand Prix, and is due to overtake Jenson Button for most races driven by a British driver by the end of the season.

The seven-time world champion made his F1 debut alongside Alonso at McLaren in 2007 in what would prove to be one of the most enthralling rivalries in the sport’s history.

Although Alonso had won the previous two drivers’ titles, Hamilton would go on to pip his more experienced team-mate to second in the standings as both finished level on 109 points, while only losing out on the crown to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by one point.

Speaking ahead of his 300th race at Paul Ricard, Hamilton singled out Alonso as his strongest opponent.

“I think it’s difficult to say who has necessarily been the strongest competitor because every time you’re with someone, you’re in a different place in your life,” Hamilton said, as quoted by Motorsport.com.

“I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22.

“I was so young mentally and, of course, OK in terms of skill but it’s a lot of pressure to go up against a great like Fernando.

“I would say on pure pace, Fernando [is the toughest]. We had some good battles.

“I wish we could have more. Hopefully he will continue to race so hopefully we’ll have more in the future.”

Alonso would mutually agree to end his three-year contract with McLaren early before departing to Renault for 2008, while Hamilton stayed put and won the first of his seven world championships.

A move to Mercedes for 2013 would pave way for Hamilton’s success in the V6 hybrid era, but Alonso’s switch to Ferrari in 2010 and return to McLaren in 2015 failed to deliver him another world title.

Despite their bitter rivalry 15 years ago, Alonso said it had been “always a pleasure” to race against Hamilton and hailed the Briton’s career achievements.

“I don’t think that he has changed much, to be honest,” Alonso said.

“He had the talent already in 2007, he still has the talent now with experience.

“He has been a tremendous driver, a legend of our sport, so it has been always a pleasure to share all this time with him.

“And back then probably no one thought that someone will be able to win seven titles as Michael [Schumacher]. The journey has been amazing.

“The team that they all built in Mercedes over these years, it was outstanding. Congratulations to the 300.”