Despite the German's quiet start to the 2010 Formula One campaign, Fernando Alonso believes that it would be foolish for anyone to discount Michael Schumacher from their world championship considerations.
Some 28 points separate the two drivers after three races, with Alonso having won the season-opener in Bahrain, as Schumacher appears to have struggled to re-acclimatise to life in the top flight with Mercedes after three years of retirement. The seven-time champion has a best finish of sixth from Bahrain, but managed only tenth after a first corner incident in Australia and then retired early on in Malaysia, leaving him only tenth overall.
Alonso, however, is reading little into Schumacher's apparent woes suggesting that, despite the 41-year old having been out-gunned by young compatriot Nico Rosberg at each round, it is too early to be writing him off.
"He is still the Michael Schumacher that we know," the Spaniard warned German magazine Sport Bild
, "I respect him in the same way I did three years ago and am sure that he will show his true qualities when the car is better. I really believe Michael will be a serious competitor for the title this year."
While Alonso insists that Schumacher remains a threat, however, potential title rival Mark Webber appears to have dismissed the German's potential, claiming that the championship race will not
feature a Mercedes driver.
Instead, the Australian has predicted that, with each team having taken a victory so far this season, Ferrari, McLaren and his own Red Bull squad would be the main protagonists come the end of the year.
"I think Ferrari and McLaren are very strong - clearly it's three teams already," Webber told ESPN
, "Mercedes are doing okay, but it's Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull who are the most consistent at the moment in terms of pace."
After chasing team-mate Sebastian Vettel home for a RBR 1-2 at Sepang, Webber is hoping that the Milton Keynes outfit can now marry its undoubted pace with solid reliability for the rest of the season. Vettel appeared poised to claim victory in each of the opening rounds, only to be slowed or sidelined by mechanical problems, while Webber's current eighth place in the standings have resulted largely from his own errors.
"The momentum needs to start building pretty quickly," the Aussie admitted, "The job they've done to recover off some tough weekends is a real credit to the team. The spirit internally in our team and the chemistry is sensational, working with Renault and Red Bull, everyone together is fighting incredibly hard. We take on these big manufacturer teams, but our team is very unique. So far, it hasn't been the smoothest championship but to come back is a very good performance."
Alonso, meanwhile, concluded that, while Schumacher has not enjoyed a successful return to the F1 ranks, he looks set to remain as the sport's most decorated participant.
"Because the rules are now so tight, there will be no-one who is far superior to the others, as Ferrari was in the past," the Spaniard, himself a double champion, reasoned, "If you ask me, Michael's records are safe."