Double world champion Fernando Alonso has become the first driver to break the cycle of downplaying his own team's chances in F1 2010 – by contending that Ferrari is now the favourite to lift the laurels this year.
Alonso and Ferrari have triumphed just once this season to-date – equal to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, and one less than current world championship leader Jenson Button and McLaren-Mercedes. In the chase for the crown, the Spaniard also trails impressive Mercedes Grand Prix ace Nico Rosberg and sits level on points with former team-mate and fellow title-winner Lewis Hamilton, and has yet to begin from the front row of the grid in any of the opening four grands prix or even add to his Bahrain podium.
As he approaches his home race in front of his adoring partisan supporters in Barcelona this weekend, however – around a circuit at which he mounted the top step of the rostrum in 2006 – the Oviedo native is confident he has everything at his disposal to clinch a third drivers' trophy in the top flight come season's end, and lauded the 'gigantic steps' forward made in terms of sport in his homeland over the past two decades, particularly in the spheres of motor racing and tennis.
“Red Bull is the quickest in qualifying and extremely fast, but in the races we are up there with them,” Alonso told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera
. “McLaren is capable of developing its cars very quickly – but so can we. Overall, Ferrari is the favourite for the championship. [Racing for Ferrari in Spain] will only be a positive thing, an advantage. The fans will have a lot of expectations, and we'll be doing everything not to disappoint them.
“[To win the world championship], to begin with you need a well-designed car, which you then develop – even if under the current limitations there is only so much you can do. To win, you also now need luck – and you need everything to be working right.
“The team is the most important thing, firstly how they work in the factory and then at the circuit. The driver only counts for a small percentage, but equally he must be at the top of his game and always consistent. It's not as important giving 100 per cent from time-to-time as giving 98 per cent all the time and in every situation.”
Pinpointing McLaren's all-British duo of Button and Hamilton as the men he expects to be his and team-mate Felipe Massa's fiercest adversaries over the balance of the campaign, Alonso also spoke in the interview about the enjoyment he derives from fighting on-track with record-breaking multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, who he pipped to glory in both 2005 and 2006.
Admitting to having been 'surprised' that the German legend elected to return to active competition this year given 'the comfortable life he had and everything he had achieved in the past', the 22-time grand prix-winner added that he believes the Scuderia
is now 'freer' without 'Schumi', and spoke of his seamless integration into one of the most famous teams in sport the world over.
“I expected to arrive at the strongest team and to make the most of the potential there – but I have seen that Ferrari is even more than that,” the 28-year-old explained. “It's a passion, a philosophy, a way of life – and this emotion is contagious. Ferrari and I are both very passionate about racing. Being in a colder team was a bit strange, but for Ferrari, having two Latin drivers is a huge motivation.