Alonso: the new Schumacher?

Ferrari boss sings praises of Spaniard, compares him to seven-time world champion

With just a few days to go before the 2011 Formula 1 season gets going in Australia, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has aired his opinions on the current state of his team in an interview in Italian publication Corriere dello Sport.

In the piece, he made clear that his star driver, Spanish double world champion Fernando Alonso, is currently at a level comparable to legends of the sport such as Michael Schumacher and Nikki Lauda.

"[Alonso] is a guy who really gets involved in life at [team headquarters] Maranello, and has a solid relationship with our people," Montezemolo told the publication. "In a very short time he'll be just like Schumacher, who was one of the best, but who also had a car that was clearly superior to the rest."

Michael Schumacher still holds the record for the most world championship titles won, with seven in total - five of which he took at Ferrari.

Montezemolo went on to say that he believes that Alonso will play a key role this season. "He's incredibly strong - he's formidable," he said. "I have seen him and he is incredibly focused. I'm hoping for a great deal from him."

In the interview, Montezemolo also expressed his confidence that Alonso's teammate, the Brazilian Felipe Massa, would perform better this season than during the last. "Last year, during the latter stage of the championship, it was as if he let his brother drive. But I'm sure that this year the real Massa will return," he said.

Alonso himself is also optimistic about his chances for the season opener, as he made clear in a post on his Ferrari blog. "I won here in 2006 and made it to the podium a further three times, so let's hope we can repeat that," he wrote. "It was here 10 years ago, that I first set out on the Formula 1 path. I have spent 26 of my 29 years behind a steering wheel controlling four wheels, and 10 of those, the best of them, have been spent in the blue riband category."

The Asturian added that he was "impatient" to get racing once more.

Alonso's 2010 season was ruined at the last minute, when he got stuck in traffic at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, leading to him missing out on the world title. Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull went on to take the race and the championship.

This weekend's race, at Albert Park in Melbourne, was originally slated to be the second of 2011, but was promoted to the opener after the Bahrain Grand Prix was canceled due to civil unrest in the island country.

Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa (l) and Fernando Alonso pose with Canadian model Ashley Hart in the paddock in Melbourne.
Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa (l) and Fernando Alonso pose with Canadian model Ashley Hart in the paddock in Melbourne.MICK TSIKAS (REUTERS)

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