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Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Thursday, 24 June 2010 17:50 UK

Fernando Alonso 'optimistic' of strong race in Valencia

Fernando Alonso
Ferrari's upgrades could catapult Alonso right to the front

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Valencia

Fernando Alonso says he is "optimistic" new parts on his Ferrari will make the team even more competitive at Sunday's European Grand Prix in Valencia.

The Spaniard finished third last time out in Canada after battling throughout with winner Lewis Hamilton's McLaren.

Alonso said: "We are happy with the job done in the last two weeks. We arrive here with a good package but very calm about our expectations."

Hamilton said he expected Ferrari's car upgrade to make them "very quick".

Ferrari are one of three teams introducing major new parts on their cars in Valencia - Renault and Mercedes also have similar designs for this race.

We know other teams were not watching TV in this last two weeks, so everyone will bring updates here but hopefully ours are a little bit better than the others

Fernando Alonso

And Hamilton's team-mate Jenson Button is concerned that McLaren may lose the momentum of their one-two finishes in the last two races, which have propelled the two men to first and second places in the championship.

Button said: "Coming here I thought momentum could be carried but looking at all the cars around us in the pit lane - which I had a little nose at earlier on - there are a lot of new bits on cars."

Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault have all introduced for this race their own version of a performance feature known as a "blown rear end" that rival teams believe has accounted for much of the advantage shown by the pace-setting Red Bull this season.

Teams believe the feature is worth at least half a second a lap in terms of performance.

It allows exhausts to exit low at the rear of the car, improving the airflow around the tyres and through the diffuser and creating more downforce, making the car faster around corners.

McLaren's version of the system is due at the next race, the British Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Ferrari are said to have been staggered when they saw in the wind-tunnel just how much this feature improved things

Button added: "Three more teams have this exhaust system and if it gives as much as we think it might they will be very competitive.

"We don't have an update here. We have an update in Silverstone - so it's going to be a tough race for us, I think.

"We'll still be competitive but so will a lot of cars. It's not going to be quite what we hope for this grand prix I don't think. But we'll have to wait and see.

"This exhaust system's not going to work straight away and they're playing around with the F-duct system (which improves straight-line speed) so there's a lot going on.

"But we have to make sure we get our heads down and make the best out of what we have. We have a car that we know very well and try and get the best out of it for the weekend."

Alonso won the first race of the season but since then Ferrari have slipped back in competitiveness compared to McLaren and Red Bull.

While Hamilton heads Button in the championship, the fastest car of the season has been the Red Bull.

Their drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have been on pole position for seven of the eight races so far but reliability problems have hit their campaign.

Fernando Alonso's Ferrari leads Lewis Hamilton's McLaren at the Canadian Grand Prix
Will Ferrari's new parts put them ahead of McLaren in Valencia?

Webber is third in the championship and Vettel fifth - sandwiching Alonso, who is fourth, the equivalent of one third place behind leader Hamilton.

Alonso tried the new Ferrari at a filming day at the team's Fiorano test track last week but was cagey about his impressions of how big a step forward it was.

"My feeling was very good," he said. "I was driving behind a car with cameras so it was very good at 60km/h (40mph) a lap so it was very stable!

"I think tomorrow [in practice] we'll have a better answer. We expect some step in the car, a little bit quicker but all the other teams will bring new parts here.

"The most important thing is to confirm that we are competitive here as we did in Canada and to keep improving the car.

"Silverstone, Hockenheim, Budapest (the next three races) - it's not one evolution in the car in the year and you stop. This is a job we need to keep doing until Abu Dhabi so there is a long way to go. But we are optimistic."

He added: "We've been improving the car every race more or less so it's a matter of how much there is still to improve, to see a clear step ahead, a step forward. I think we are optimistic.

I never look at a season and say who's the title favourite - Red Bull I think are in contention for that and this weekend you'll see Ferrari step up to it

Lewis Hamilton

"We know other teams were not watching TV in this last two weeks, so everyone will bring updates here but hopefully ours are a little bit better than the others.

"It'll be interesting to see how this race goes. We've been better at some circuits and some circuits we've had more problems so it's been up and down for the team performance in the last couple of races so hopefully we can continue the performance we saw in Montreal. The line that put us on a competitive level fighting with the McLarens and Red Bulls."

Hamilton played down talk of him being the favourite for the title following two consecutive one-twos for himself and Button in Turkey and Canada, and said he expected the next few races to be "tough, very tricky for us".

"I never look at a season and say who's the title favourite," Hamilton added. "Red Bull I think are in contention for that and this weekend you'll see Ferrari step up to it.

"So on those weekends (when we had one-twos) we came out as favourites but we're only halfway into the season and there'll be quite a lot of changes over the last 11 races. So there's still a long way to go.

"I've always said the main title contenders were ourselves, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. I think this weekend you will see Ferrari very, very competitive."

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see also
McLaren 'concerned' over Ferrari
23 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari still contenders - Alonso
16 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Ex-McLaren man Fry joins Ferrari
22 Jun 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso poised for leap to the front
15 Jun 10 |  Formula 1

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