Fernando Alonso will not underestimate McLaren

Despite all the negative noises coming out of McLaren-Mercedes, the double world champion is not ruling them out of the fight for honours at the Australian Grand Prix.

Jenson Button drives his McLaren-Mercedes car at a test session at Montmelo yesterday. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
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Fernando Alonso has been around long enough not to read too much into testing times after nine years racing in Formula One.

Consequently, despite all the negative noises coming out of McLaren-Mercedes regarding the pace and reliability of the MP4-26 chassis, the double world champion is not ruling them out of the fight for honours at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday, March 27.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the McLaren drivers, have both complained about their new car, but Alonso, the Ferrari driver, said he is not buying into the negativity from the team that he raced for in 2007.

He told El Pais: "They're better than they look. Winter testing doesn't explain anything. They say themselves they are expecting a little more, so perhaps they will be at a similar level to the best [in Australia] and then go on ahead.

"When we get there, we'll see. McLaren are not going to be fighting for 10th place, but rather the podium."

Alonso has also dismissed the theory that the contrasting driving styles of Hamilton and Button has complicated the design of the car. "I think not because Formula One is dominated by aerodynamics."

"For example, if a wind tunnel predicts a gain of a tenth of a second, that is valid for Alonso, [Felipe] Massa, Hamilton, Button and all the others, regardless of the driving style of each.

"Maybe the tyres are all that matter in terms of having to adapt your way of driving."

Meanwhile, Jean Todt, the Federation International de l'Automobile president, believes Australia should be permanently retained on the Formula One calendar. Todt, in Melbourne as part of a global road safety campaign, said Australia should always host an annual F1 race.

The Frenchman's view appears to be at odds with those of Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief who said recently that F1 "does not need" the Australian race as debate about the value and cost of the event emerged once again in the host state Victoria.

Todt, though, said as long as F1 continued, the Australian Grand Prix should be a part of it.

"Formula One is not essential [compared to road safety]. It is a sport and it is important, and if Formula One does exist I think it is important to have one race in Australia because Australia is among the biggest nations in the world," Todt said. "Australia has been doing a great job together with people from Cams [The Confederation of Australian Motorsport]," he said. "They have put Australia among the best grands prix in the season."