Alonso predicts competitive F1 season as McLaren struggle

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The Independent Online

Three or four Formula One teams appear to be ahead of the rest and the new season is unlikely to be a battle between only Ferrari and McLaren, Renault's Fernando Alonso said today.

"The times being set by Ferrari, Brawn or BMW are for the moment out of reach," the 2005 and 2006 world champion told Spanish reporters at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, adding that Toyota also looked quick.

"You have to think that finishing fifth here, with only one car per team, represents 10th place in the race. There are three or four teams who are a step ahead of us," the AS website quoted the Spaniard as saying.

"Even then, it's not all about winning the first race in Melbourne because the championship is very long. There have been many changes and this season will not be a closed battle between Ferrari and McLaren."

The season starts in Melbourne on 29 March.

To race at the very limit, Formula 1 drivers must be in top physical condition when the new season starts in Australia on March 29. Panasonic Toyota Racing drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock have been working hard on their fitness during the pre-season period to ensure they are well prepared when the 17-race season begins in Melbourne...

McLaren, with world champion Lewis Hamilton, have been off the pace in recent tests while the former Honda team renamed as Brawn GP have been impressive since their debut on Monday.

Britain's Jenson Button was quickest for Brawn on Wednesday while Hamilton was slowest.

Alonso, who fell out spectacularly with McLaren in a difficult season with the team in 2007, said it was hard to tell what was going on.

"They (McLaren) have had days without making progress and are being left behind. They have tested the car with their drivers...and it's not going very well for them, although this does not mean anything at the moment."

Alonso doubted that Brawn, who need to attract sponsors, were flattering themselves by running on low fuel loads to grab the headlines.

"That they should be so quick in the first tests is not normal," he said.

"The truth is that they have a car that Honda began working on in 2007, to use in 2009. You can see that in its design, because it is a very detailed car with a different look to the others."

Panasonic Toyota Racing is preparing for its eighth season in Formula 1, beginning in Australia on March 29. The team, with drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, has set a goal of fighting for its first Grand Prix victory and to build for that it has been testing the new TF109 car in Europe and the Middle East.

Honda announced in December that they were pulling out of the sport, with team principal Ross Brawn taking over as the new owner. The car is now powered by the same Mercedes engine as the McLaren.

Alonso, who won two races last season after a tough start, warned against excessive optimism about his team's chances, although they were in a better position than a year ago.

"I am more optimistic than this time last year," he declared. "In 2008 I was not optimistic and after the first two or three races I thought that for the rest of the championship I would be a tourist in those cities where we were competing.

"The truth is that we are not too far off," he added. "We are just a few tenths from the leaders and this situation is better than last year."