Fernando Alonso has rubbished suggestions that he is set for another tough season in Formula 1 with Renault in 2009 following the poor initial testing pace of the new R29, urging that 'the cars in Jerez are not going to be the ones in Australia'.

The Spaniard was reportedly particularly unhappy with the handling of the R?gie's new challenger on its maiden outing at Portimao in Portugal last month, and countryman and McLaren-Mercedes test driver Pedro de la Rosa suggested the world championship battle would be closely disputed once again between just the Woking-based concern and traditional rivals Ferrari, adding that in his opinion Williams is likely to spring the biggest surprise and telling TV broadcaster La Sexta: "I hope I am wrong and that there are others."

Despite that cynicism, however - allied to the fact that the R29 has been consistently the slowest of the new models during testing at Jerez this week, with Alonso and young team-mate Nelsinho Piquet taking turns at the wheel - the former is confident there is no undue cause for concern.

On Thursday the 27-year-old lagged almost half a second adrift of the next lowest-placed driver in attendance, Williams' Kazuki Nakajima, but the man from Oviedo is adamant that he now feels 'much more comfortable' inside the cockpit - and is confident of making significant progress between now and the season start.

"It is still impossible to draw conclusions as to who is going to be fast and who is not," the 2005 and 2006 F1 World Champion told Spanish newspaper Diario AS. "Obviously it is better to be ahead than behind, but the first race is in Australia and it is there that we need to be quick. The cars in Jerez are not going to be the ones in Australia.

"We have a lot of further work to do. We have collected a lot of data and, little by little, we are resolving the problems, which is normal with a car when it is new. The car is the same here as when it was presented. We will have to wait for a few more tests for the big improvements."

Meanwhile, intensifying speculation in the French motorsport media is suggesting that Renault's head of engine track operations, Denis Chevrier, has been removed from his role and re-posted elsewhere within the company.

The 54-year-old - a key part of the French manufacturer's F1 efforts since the 1980s, and also helping out with Red Bull Racing since 2007 - has not been at Jerez this week, and daily sports newspaper L'?quipe claims his place is to be taken by either deputy engine director Rob White or engineer Remi Tafin. It is understood that Chevrier and Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore have been in talks regarding compensation.

When contacted by Crash.net, a team spokesperson revealed: "A new structure for the Renault F1 engine department is under discussion at the moment, and it will be officialised next week to the media."