Lewis Hamilton admitted to being "blown away" by a compliment from Fernando Alonso at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Alonso claimed his McLaren rival was "the one who's able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best".
Hamilton, who has described 2011 as the
worst year of his Formula 1 career
, said: "I'm blown away Fernando is so positive towards me despite my season.
"It's nice to know I've got support from some drivers."
Alonso and Hamilton became bitter rivals during a turbulent year as McLaren team-mates in 2007.
That resulted in the Spaniard leaving the team after only one season and, since then, it has been understood that the pair have endured an uneasy relationship.
“I've only ever said Fernando is one of the best drivers, if not the best driver here”
But that now seems to be changing and, instead, Hamilton has been involved in
a number of incidents with Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa this year
When Alonso's remark was then put to Hamilton, the 26-year-old Englishman was initially lost for words.
After taking a few seconds to reflect on what he had just heard, Hamilton admitted he was taken aback and returned the compliment to Alonso.
"Despite the relationship we've had, I think our friendship and the respect we have for one another has got a lot stronger," stated the 2008 world champion.
"So it's nice to see that coming out because I've only ever said he is one of the best drivers, if not the best driver here."
“The other guys can win if they've got the best car; Lewis is the one who's able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best”
Alonso's comment may raise eyebrows given that he himself has consistently proved capable of challenging for race wins and the drivers' championship despite not having the best car.
He famously beat the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Massa to
win the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix
in a Renault.
Alonso then produced a stunning drive for Ferrari to
overcome Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel
at Singapore in 2010, and was in contention for the title until the final race of the year.
This time round he is third in the standings ahead of Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber, both of whom have quicker cars.
But the 30-year-old still believes Hamilton, who has endured a difficult year on and off the track, is the man with the most raw talent.
"Hamilton did not have a super season this year, who knows whether it was due to the Pirelli tyres or the fact that with
now driving has changed," he explained.
"On top of that, [Hamilton's team-mate Jenson] Button is having a great year. All of this concurred to give the impression that his season hasn't been so good.
"But let's consider India, when he took
second place in qualifying
. It's like soccer: if Real Madrid or Barcelona are not performing particularly well on a given season, that does not mean that they're not top league.
"In fact, at the next winter testing he [Hamilton] will be the only one I'll be watching closely. The other guys can win if they've got the best car; he's the one who's able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best."