Double world champion Fernando Alonso has asserted that Ferrari is 'in a 100 per cent state of readiness' ahead of the curtain-raising F1 2011 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in just under a fortnight's time - but he still fears Red Bull Racing has the early edge.

Following the conclusion of pre-season testing in Barcelona at the weekend - with a Saturday washout - it remains difficult indeed to accurately predict the pecking-order heading Down Under, but the general paddock consensus is that Red Bull have the quickest car and Ferrari the most reliable, with the 150? Italia not far from the outright pace, either.

Albert Park qualifying will provide the first true acid test of relative competitiveness amongst the teams - and Alonso is in bullish spirits, confident that having successfully completed more laps than any of its rivals to-date in 2011, the Prancing Horse will come out of the starting-blocks galloping rather than at a canter.

"We've had a very good pre-season," the Spaniard told journalists, forecasting another intensely closely-fought affair to come and echoing team-mate Felipe Massa in suggesting RBR duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will begin proceedings as 'the two favourites, in theory', with Ferrari test-driver Marc Gen? having admitted that 'no-one knows how scary Red Bull are going to be'.

"I am very pleased with how the winter testing has gone. We're the team that's driven the most [kilometres] and that has had the fewest problems. On average, we have done around 100 laps each day; that demonstrates we have the reliability, which is a priority when you are dealing with a new car. We have got all those laps on the new tyres, and I'm sure that will help the team.

"All that experience with the new car I am sure helps the team to arrive in Melbourne in a 100 per cent state of readiness. Whether or not that will be enough to win, we will not know until we are in Australia - but the global outlook hasn't changed a lot since last year. There is not a clear picture at the moment of where we are in terms of performance - but McLaren will be there again in the end, it seems Mercedes have improved, maybe this year also Renault and Williams who have done good work over the winter and Red Bull and Ferrari will be at the front.

"I think all the cars are very close at the moment - there is not one completely ahead of everyone - and it will be decided by very small details. It will be very open going into Australia, so it's up to us to have a better weekend than [the others]. One thing's for sure - we will have to push on the development, like we did last year. For example, at Albert Park, I hope we will manage to bring a few updates, especially to the front wing, which can still give us a fraction more in performance terms.

"We know that the car is performing well, and we are more-or-less happy. I feel confident, just as I did last year going into the start of the season. We are in good shape, even if we know we are not racing alone out there. I am very realistic.

"The podium is the aim for someone who's targeting the title. Arriving in Australia and not thinking like that would be too pessimistic, but we know that anything could happen. When everyone has shown their cards, there could be some surprises. Hopefully we can be on the podium, and then in three-to-four races we'll have a much clearer idea of where we are."

Alonso went on to concede that in the light of the well-documented severe degradation of the new Pirelli tyres for 2011, races will be increasingly determined by on-the-spot strategy and tactics and teams' and drivers' ability to react swiftly and think on their feet.

"We still need to see how the tyres will perform in higher temperatures, which we might encounter in Australia and even more likely in Malaysia," the 29-year-old underlined. "In November at the Abu Dhabi test, the situation was a bit different to these tests in Spain, but we will have to wait for a race to find out more.

"What is certain is that we will not see races like those of 2010, in which strategy was obvious right from the start of the weekend. This year, a lot of attention will go into deciding if it is best to do two, three or four stops, being flexible and ready to manage any situation. There are many possibilities this year. Sometimes it may be better to do a few less laps in each stint and make the most of the tyres at the point when they are at their best, or look at doing one less stop. It will depend on the track and how the race evolves."

Meanwhile, despite the new, Adrian Newey-designed RB7 looking to be the benchmark again thus far, Webber has sought to play down Red Bull's early 'favourite' tag, even going so far as to claim that Ferrari - which reportedly has never unveiled so many pre-season developments as it has this year - might have the initial advantage.

"We have no time for that," the Australian told Italian magazine Autosprint, when it was put to him that RBR has been accused of deliberately sandbagging during testing in a bid to lure its adversaries into a false sense of security. "We already have enough to do.

"I think Ferrari is strong - hopefully we are not too far away from them to start with. I think we're going okay, but it's impossible for me to know what the red guys are doing. Race runs they are going okay, they look quick. The rest is hard to say. I think we'll be in the top eight in Melbourne. The form is still very hard. I would not put my house on qualifying in Melbourne - I don't know who has the outright pace. I don't know."

"I think people are underestimating where Ferrari are," concurred Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "We hope that we are somewhere near competitive."



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