Alonso and Schumacher gear up to repeat duel

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Alexander Wurz upstaged them both with a late burst of speed for Williams in the second practice session for the Grand Prix of Europeyesterday, but Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher seem set to repeat their San Marino duel.

Whatever he requires of it, Alonso's Renault appears capable of delivering, and the Spaniard looked relaxed on his way to the second-fastest time.

"I am expecting a big fight again," he said. "I think the level of competition is much closer than the standings suggest, and there will be some big challengers. The Michelin tyres have performed very consistently this year, and they have done a great job. It will be the same here, I am sure, so we will see a big push from McLaren-Mercedes at their home race."

Alonso has access to an up-rated engine this weekend, but there have been changes to the Ferrari, too. Schumacher is confident of challenging for another victory and that his Bridgestone tyres will not prove a disadvantage.

"I believe we are in a position to fight for it," he said, "and as you've seen, there is very close competition between three, if not more, teams who can win. It comes down to who gets the maximum from their package. We have learned how to handle the tyres. We believe that we are on top of the situation."

McLaren and Honda did not show their hands yesterday, with Kimi Raikkonen 13th and Jenson Button seventh. Alonso believes that McLaren could still prove the strongest opposition; Button said that he was cautiously optimistic.

Yesterday Schumacher received an enthusiastic endorsement from Toro Rosso's team principal, Gerhard Berger, who said that he felt the German was the equal of the late Ayrton Senna. "Is he going down a bit? I don't think so," Berger said. "He's fit still, he's motivated still. The only difference is you have two other guys who are also outstanding, Alonso and Raikkonen. Can Button join them? Maybe, but he needs the car first before he can win." Indeed he does.

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