Fernando Alonso has advised F1 fans to bet on him heading into the 2010 world championship campaign, contending that he is now 'a better driver' than he was when he claimed his previous two crowns in the top flight with Renault - and quipping that the return of record-breaking legend Michael Schumacher is arguably a lucky omen for him.

Having dominated the scene in 2005 and 2006 - Schumacher's final two seasons in F1, or so it appeared at the time, at least - and with a McLaren-Mercedes contract in his pocket for 2007, once his German rival had hung up his helmet Alonso looked to be unbeatable. Things did not exactly work out that way.

The Spaniard's three-year agreement with McLaren was terminated at the end of a sole, unhappy campaign spent at Woking - characterised by acrimonious and very public fall-outs with team principal Ron Dennis and young rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, threats of blackmail and the failure to successfully defend his hard-fought title by a solitary marker.

There followed two years back at Renault - which, sadly, was by then only a comparative shadow of its former self - that, aside from two late-season victories in 2008 in Singapore and Japan, effectively represented two years in the F1 wilderness for one of the sport's inarguable leading lights, with no hope of challenging for glory behind the wheel of uncompetitive machinery. Even his Singapore triumph would subsequently become irrevocably tainted twelve months on.

For some time, it was common knowledge - if not confirmed knowledge - that Alonso would be Ferrari-bound in 2010, and so has proven to be the case. Having already described the Scuderia's F10 contender as 'the best car I've ever had' [see separate story - click here], the 21-time grand prix-winner has swiftly been installed as pre-season world championship favourite.

Whilst F1 2010 is shaping up to be the most open, competitive and unpredictable campaign in years - with Schumacher's shock comeback, the two latest title-winners going head-to-head in an all-British line-up at McLaren, Red Bull Racing inexorably on the up and Felipe Massa having fought bravely back from his life-threatening head injury last summer to take his place alongside Alonso at the Prancing Horse - the man from Oviedo tends to agree with the bookies' forecast.

"I knew I was only fighting for seventh or eighth," he told British newspaper The Guardian, reflecting upon his Renault 'purgatory' between the hell of McLaren and the heaven he hopes to find at Ferrari, "but it was important to learn from that. I have no doubt I am a better driver now.

"After so many years of course I have battled with Felipe. It's the way it is - and we'll keep having these fights. Michael Schumacher and [Nico] Rosberg will have fights at Mercedes. I am sure Lewis and Jenson Button will have fights. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel will have fights at Red Bull - in fact they were fighting last year already - but no one talks about this. They talk about it with Ferrari because we are in a good position.

"I was very surprised when I first heard Michael was coming back, but our lives are so intense that when you are at home it's difficult to get used to a normal life - so if you get an opportunity to come back after three years, maybe you can't say no. And it's true that since Michael left I haven't won any championships, so hopefully this is a good sign for me. Maybe there is some relationship between Michael and my success!

"I expect Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull to be big contenders [this year], but we are very happy where we are at Ferrari - put the money on me now..."

As to whether Button will be similarly happy as he follows in Alonso's footsteps in entering the lion's den as it were, by moving as the reigning F1 World Champion to a team that many believe is to all intents and purposes moulded around Hamilton, the Asturian admitted that he hopes simply that lessons have been learned from his own unhappy experience at the British outfit three years ago.

"Obviously I don't know how McLaren is now," he acknowledged, "but if Jenson [had] arrived in my time then, for sure, it would [have been] very tough for him. Hopefully it's now better for Jenson, because I learned a lot from that season and McLaren did as well."