Talk about bad news for the Formula One paddock: Fernando Alonso thinks he's got a car that could deliver the 2013 championship.
Now, it's probably not enough to make the other 10 teams pack up and go home, but the fact that the usually cautious Alonso spoke confidently about his chances following his second win in five starts this year should have his competitors worried.
"Definitely on Sundays, it’s a very competitive team package," the Ferrari driver said following his win in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
"We are not the quickest over one lap, maybe we don’t set the fastest time in the race, but we have fantastic strategy people, fantastic pitstops, the starts, tire degradation. We have many ingredients to have a competitive car to fight for the championship. In the four years in Ferrari, maybe it’s true that this is the one we feel more confident with but we are not happy still with the performance of the car and we want to have a good and aggressive developing programme for the next races."
The victory gave the Spanish driver a total of 72 points and moved him into third place overall. With a quarter of the 19-race season in the books, reigning three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing leads with 89. The second-placed finisher in Spain, Lotus' Kimi Räikkönen, is second overall, four points behind Vettel. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Alonso's win also moved him out of a tie with 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell and into fourth place in career F1 wins at 32. Next on the list is late three-time champion Ayrton Senna with 41, while four-time world champion Alain Prost is second with 51.
Despite the impressive total, Alonso would still need 60 more victories to better the career leader, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who won an incredible 91 times in 306 starts between 1991 and 2012.
Although he lost the title in the final race of the year in two of the past three seasons, Alonso has been hampered by a slower-but-reliable car since he joined Ferrari in 2010. In that first year, he won five times, but a catastrophic strategy error by the team in the final race cost him dearly and he lost the championship to Vettel by four points. Last season, Alonso put on the performance of a lifetime, squeezing every bit of speed from a disappointing car in an unlikely title bid that went all the way to the finale in São Paulo, Brazil. He again fell short, this time by an agonizing three markers. He finished fourth overall in 2011.
While having a car that comes close to matching Alonso's talent should be enough to cause his opponents lose sleep, making matters worse is the fact that the Ferrari driver looks particularly racy this year.
Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix was no exception, with the Ferrari driver pulling off spectacular passes on two world champions in the first three corners of the action. After starting fifth on the grid, Alonso needed to gain spots quickly to have a chance of winning because the undulating Barcelona track makes overtaking difficult. In fact, the lowest grid position any previous winner had overcome on the twisty 16-turn, 4.655-kilometre Circuit de Catalunya was third and that happened all the way back in 1996 when Schumacher moved up two spots from third to take the victory.
At the start on Sunday, Alonso's Ferrari got corralled behind Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes on the run down to the first corner and he couldn't make a move, so he switched off the boost from the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) patiently waited to pounce as the field exited the first corner. He slipped under Räikkönen on the exit of Turn 2 before powering by Hamilton in the next corner.
"I think we knew that to win the race we needed to pass people at the start," he said.
"I saw Kimi and Lewis running a little bit wide in Turn 1, so I changed trajectory and I had a clean exit in Turn 2. I passed Kimi and I said ‘why not also Hamilton?’ I had a little bit of KERS that I saved from the start for Turn 3, so I used that to pass Hamilton and I think that was a lot in the race."
The pass came after Alonso filed the idea in the back of his head following the F1 feeder GP2 races earlier in the day, where he saw a couple of drivers try the Turn 3 move.
Unfortunately for Alonso, making it two consecutive victories at the next race in Monaco might be a tough order, considering his car's qualifying speed usually cannot match his rivals and success on the tight street circuit in Monaco usually requires a top grid spot.
On the other hand, one of the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg should be the driver to beat going into Monte Carlo. Although the Mercedes is tough on its tires in races, it has loads of speed over one lap as evidenced by Rosberg's two consecutive poles in Spain and Bahrain which gave the pair three in a row after Hamilton started from the front in China.
Although Rosberg faded in Spain and ended up sixth, keeping cars behind is a much easier task on the narrow 19-turn, 3.340-kilometre Monaco circuit.
They [Mercedes] will arrive as favourites for Monaco," Alonso said.
"It would be a surprise if they weren’t on pole position in Monaco and it’s more difficult to overtake in Monaco, so maybe they can keep good positions for longer. It’s something we need to understand and we need to do a better job [in qualifying] on Saturday."
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