After finishing fourth in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza at the weekend - three positions and almost half a minute adrift of Formula 1's new youngest-ever race-winner Sebastian Vettel - the previous man to hold that mantle, Fernando Alonso, has suggested Scuderia Toro Rosso is now the third-most competitive team in the top flight.

With Vettel's stunning breakthrough victory - allied to his and team-mate S?bastien Bourdais' top six finishes in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps just a week earlier - STR has notched up 16 points in the last two outings, more than any other team save for Ferrari, whose engine has taken much of the credit for the small Faenza-based outfit's astonishing recent upsurge in form.

Alonso - who held the record for both youngest-ever pole-sitter and race-winner in F1 until Vettel stole his thunder - was one of the first drivers to congratulate the German on his sensational triumph, and what's more reckons STR has now moved ahead of all teams on performance-terms, bar Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes.

"You could tell that sooner or later they were going to be on pole and on the podium," the 27-year-old Renault star is quoted as having told Spanish newspaper Diario AS, echoing the thoughts of BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica [see separate story - click here]. "Right now I see them right behind Ferrari and McLaren."

One team STR certainly has moved ahead of is parent concern Red Bull Racing, leapfrogging the Milton Keynes-based squad into sixth spot in the constructors' rankings by a single marker and - lying 14 points adrift of both Toyota and Renault with four grands prix remaining on the calendar - theoretically in with a chance now of stealing fourth spot before the 2008 season is out.

Despite RBR - with whom Vettel has signed for next year - having struggled of late with its Renault horsepower, the 21-year-old insists he has no regrets about making the switch.

"First of all, no matter what happens, next year I am going to race for Red Bull Racing," he underlined. "I don't see it's a step backwards."


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