Monte Carlo: Fernando Alonso may hold few hopes of winning this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix for Ferrari, but he does believe that champions Red Bull can mount a challenge to runaway leaders Mercedes.
"This year," he said, after the recent Spanish Grand Prix, "I think Monte Carlo will be one of the few possibilities to challenge Mercedes -- especially for Red Bull. It is a chance, but not I think for us..."
Fernando Alonso. Pic/ AFP
The 32-year-old Spaniard has not won in the principality since the second of his two successive victories in 2007, in a race that ended amid controversy as he led his then-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton home.
Then British rookie Hamilton claimed he should have won because he was faster than Alonso, but was told to obey instructions and hold position.
A post-race inquiry vindicated the team's position in controlling their drivers as they claimed a crushing one-two victory.
This time around, Hamilton arrives in Monaco not as a new boy, but as the in-form championship leader following four straight wins for the 'silver arrows' -- and intent on adding another triumph to that he claimed with McLaren, following Alonso's abrupt departure, in 2008.
And, after clocking the fastest times in qualifying for the last two years, Mercedes know they should be confident of securing another pole position, perhaps a front row lockout and turning the traditional 78-laps contest into a private in-house duel.
But, contrary to expectations, there is an air of nervous concern in the Mercedes camp as German Nico Rosberg, last year's winner and Hamilton's main rival, bids to halt the Englishman's streak of successes.
Team chief Toto Wolff explained that, perversely, it is the near-perfection of the team's car performance that may undermine their qualifying supremacy of recent years on the famous Mediterranean street circuit.
That was achieved, by Rosberg last year, and compatriot Michael Schumacher in 2012 (before he was penalised for a misdemeanour at the previous race) thanks to their car's characteristic of over-heating the tyres, a negative issue for anywhere else, but perfect for peak performance one-lap blasts in Monaco.
"In the past, on a low grip circuit like Monaco, we have been able to keep the tyres alive easily, but over-working the tyres is not a problem for us anymore," said Wolff.
And that, plus the tight, twisty and punishing nature of the 3.340-km circuit means that Mercedes' power advantage this year may also be reduced, according to Alonso, who believes Red Bull have the performance characteristics to mount a challenge. .
"In the corners, they (Red Bull) are very fast, but on the straights they seem to lose a lot of lap time," he explained. "But in Monte Carlo, there are no straights... So, Red Bull could challenge Mercedes there."
Hamilton, who gained the lead in the drivers' title race by winning in Spain, is also worried that he has enjoyed a fat slice of luck in his four straight wins and pointed out that Rosberg was the faster driver in two of those races.
"It's still encouraging that I won," he said. "As in Bahrain, I felt massively good after that, but I know what I've got and I feel it shouldn't have been that close. I want to be further ahead and to be faster, but in Spain and Bahrain, he was quicker.
"Even though I finished ahead -- and it's positive for me in the sense I know I'm able to behave well under pressure - I know that ultimately he was quicker. I'm not being negative. It's just I'm a perfectionist."
Intent on improving, Hamilton will be a formidable man to beat this weekend, but with defending champion German Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull focussed on raising their game and Alonso urging Ferrari to fight back, a competitive race is in prospect.
"We can't go to Monte Carlo and Canada thinking that third place is the target," said Alonso. "Sure, it is true that the world championship is in Mercedes' hands, and they have a big advantage, but I think - as with any sport - we can fight."