He may not have been in a position to win in Hungary at the weekend, but Giancarlo Minardi believes that Fernando Alonso remains the favourite to land this year's F1 world title.
The veteran former team owner points to the increased competition in this year's world championship as being a good thing for the Spaniard, whose 40-point advantage may be enough to help him remain at the head of the pack if those behind him cannot mount a concerted challenge. The 2012 season has so far seen seven different winners - including the unlikely figures of Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado - and, with Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean showing victory potential, Minardi reckons there could be enough sharing of positions to allow Alonso to escape.
"Everybody knows that [Hungary] would be a difficult weekend for Ferrari and I think that Sunday's results represent the current strength of the teams," Italian Minardi opined, "Once again, the Spaniard set his fastest lap at the end of the race, showing great determination in defending fifth place, getting the gap down over his direct rivals. He can go on vacation [ahead by] 40 points, which is a great success both to him and Ferrari, [although] they won't have to rest on their laurels and there is still much to do."
Minardi is particularly excited by the emergence of Lotus as a genuine victory threat after the double podium secured by Raikkonen and Grosjean in Budapest.
"The 'family' fight between Red Bull drivers [Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel] could be a weapon to his benefit, just like Lotus competitiveness and the return of the McLaren," he continued, "In Budapest, we saw an amazing Lotus. If it [produces] good qualifying, it will point straight to victory. We saw also a very good Raikkonen who is constantly in the score zone. Unfortunately, they paid for the lack of experience of the pit-wall and Grosjean.
"Spa and Monza will be really decisive [for the championship], so the second part of the season is expected to be hot and full of suspense. During this month off, the teams have the opportunity to set the last improvements [but, on a technical and fast track like the one in Spa, Lotus is a favourite car because it can make a difference in fast corners."
There is more concern over Red Bull's potential, however, with Minardi adding his voice to those questioning whether the revision of engine mapping rules has been a setback for the Milton Keynes team.
"In the constructors' world championship, Red Bull is still the group leader, but it hasn't been flawless," he noted, "Their performance level was lower than the [that] of McLaren and Lotus. Webber himself didn't manage to attack a superb Bruno Senna, [and] maybe the [team's] technical development bordering on the regulations is having a bad influence on the development itself.
"The amendments made for the German GP gave a turn to McLaren and Lewis Hamilton, even if the zero points scored [at Hockenheim] keep him far away from the lead. If the English team maintains top positions, it would be a great help to Ferrari, who is still missing Massa's contribution."