Fernando Alonso was clearly irritated by a new line of questioning following qualifying at the Malaysian Grand Prix, but did his best to play down suggestions that a rejuvenated Felipe Massa is anything but good for Ferrari.
Unpredictable conditions during the second and third phases of qualifying at Sepang helped the Brazilian out-perform Alonso for the fourth race in succession, dating back to the USGP in Austin last season, but the double world champion dismissed the significance of the statistic, claiming that Massa hadn't suddenly become a threat to either his championship ambitions or his role as number one at Maranello.
“I think I've been racing 27 years now - I'm getting old – so it's not the first time that we have very close competition,” he sighed, “It was very close the last three years as well, but I know that for you it was not that close in terms of results because I think Felipe had some bad luck, some incidents sometimes, some mechanical problems other times, but the last three years were much closer than I think it looked in the points at the end.
“This year, it is again very close, no big difference, and, for sure, the last two races we are behind [him] on the grid but, so far, on Saturday, there are no points so we need to keep working for Sunday.”
Massa's form since his 2009 qualifying accident at the Hungaroring has been the subject of much debate, with the axe appearing to hang over the Brazilian for the past couple of seasons. In each case, he managed to preserve his position on the Ferrari line-up with a strong conclusion to the year and, now, that form appears to have continued into 2013, with the second Ferrari proving to be a match for Alonso through testing and the opening round in Australia.
“It's the best news for the team, because we need to have a competition between the two drivers, we need to share information between the drivers and now I think all the data that we have from free practice, from qualifying is very useful to compare and to analyse to make ourselves better,” the Spaniard stressed, brushing off claims that Massa's form could threaten his title aspirations, “We will push each other to our own limits and this is good news for the team.”
Having both made strong starts to the Melbourne race last weekend, Alonso is confident that both he and Massa can challenge polesitter Sebastian Vettel into turn one at Sepang. The German's defence in race one of the season played a part in allowing Kimi Raikkonen to keep in touch from seventh on the grid, eventually leading to the Finn claiming victory from Alonso.
“I think, if everything goes normally, I will have a very good start, so we should be able to at least maintain the position, if not attack,” the Spaniard acknowledged, “However, I think that in this F1 that we are experiencing today, the start is very low priority. I think that 56 laps is a very long race, with a lot of strategy calls to make, a lot of tyre issues that everybody needs to get through. Some people maybe look better in the first part, some people maybe look a little better in the second part
“I think the start, as I said, is of less importance than in the past but, for sure, we will try to do a good start, similar to Melbourne – hopefully – and try to be first and second in the first part of the race.”