Monaco Grand Prix 2014: Ferrari chief shoots down talk of Fernando Alonso discontent before rumours even appear

'He is the best driver in the world, who always gives 200 per cent,' claims Luca di Montezemolo

The Ferrari chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, has become something of a loose cannon this year, especially after his excoriation of the new eco-hybrid Formula One as "taxi cab racing" came, embarrassingly, on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the most dramatic race in ages.

Today, amid rumours of a possible defection that most people had not even heard, he rushed to cosset Fernando Alonso and to slam those who might suggest all was not well between the Spaniard and the team's management.

"Fernando is the best driver in the world, who always gives 200 per cent in the races," Di Montezemolo declared. "He knows how much I count on him, even away from the racetrack, in terms of his contribution and the impetus he gives to the team. I think it's incredible that there are still some so-called experts who don't understand that and are always looking for a polemical situation that simply doesn't exist".

Apparently he had forgotten his own very public denunciation of Alonso last year when he learnt that his star driver had attempted to decamp to Red Bull. It was all very odd and, of course, the ego rub did not really have anything to do with Alonso setting the fastest time this afternoon.

That was down to the circumstance of a drying track and the resultant lottery nature of lap-time improvements – and the fierce determination and hunger of a warrior who will always seize every chance however it might present itself. Using the faster supersoft-compound Pirelli tyre Alonso got the job done better than anyone else on the same rubber, as he beat Lewis Hamilton by half a second and Sebastian Vettel by three-fifths of a second.

But the man who has won the last four races on the trot had been a fifth of a second faster than that in the morning session run on a dry track and on the slightly slower soft-compound tyres. So, reading between the lines, it would appear that Mercedes still have a performance advantage here, even though the insignificance of very high top speed has thrown both Ferrari and Red Bull a lifeline and may have closed the gap.

"The car is still a work in progress but it felt really good out there today," Hamilton revealed. "I had a good first session and was then really pleased to get those last few laps in the dry this afternoon. I'm feeling pretty set for Saturday. There is still some work to do but we have tomorrow to look into that and finish all our preparations for the weekend.

"I just love racing here; this track is one of the coolest ever. It's such a classic race, and I've been trying to win here again since 2008, so I'm hoping this is the year as we have such a great car."

In his intense intra-team war with Nico Rosberg, second and 20th today, such a promising start could provide a key psychological edge for Hamilton to carry into the all-important qualifying session tomorrow afternoon.