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Alonso regards McLaren as the bigger threat
Alan Baldwin | May 03, 2006 18:08 IST
The Formula One season moves to Germany for the European Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring this weekend where world champion Fernando Alonso regards McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen as a bigger threat than Michael Schumacher.
Fresh from his first win in 13 races, Ferrari's Schumacher can count on plenty of support from his home German fans at the circuit nestling among the forests of the Eifel hills.
It is also a home track for McLaren's engine partners Mercedes, who are hungry for the team's first win of the campaign in the fifth round of the 18-race season.
"I am expecting a big fight again," said 24-year-old Alonso, who has two wins and two second places in his Renault from the season's opening races and a 15-point advantage over seven times champion Schumacher.
"The level of competition is much closer than the championship standings suggest and there will be some big challengers."
McLaren have the same Michelin tyres as championship leaders Renault, who expect the French manufacturer to get the better of Ferrari's partners Bridgestone in what could be a cold and wet fifth race of the season.
"The Michelin tyres have performed very consistently at every circuit this year and they have done a great job," the Spaniard added.
"It will be the same in Germany, I am sure, so we will see a big push from McLaren-Mercedes at their home race, running on the same Michelin tyres as us."
Raikkonen, winner of seven races in 2005, has a record of three retirements in the last three years at the Nuerburgring but that does not tell the real story.
The Finn would have won last year, had he not flat-spotted a tyre and suffered suspension failure on the last lap while leading Alonso, and was in a race of his own in 2003 until his engine blew up. His engine also failed in 2004.
"I am hoping to have a less dramatic race this year," Raikkonen said.
Colombian team mate Juan Pablo Montoya also has a strong track record, being runner-up in 2001 and 2003 with Williams, and took his first podium of the year with third place at Imola.
Ferrari were strong at that San Marino Grand Prix two weeks ago but Alonso suggested the jury remained out on the Italian team.
"What we don't know at the moment is how consistent Ferrari will be. So far, they have been strong at the same tracks as in 2005, and not so good at others," said Alonso who will join McLaren next year.
"It is too early to say if it will be the same this year, so we can't write them off -- and Michael is racing in front of his people too."
The Spaniard will have a new 'B specification' RS26 engine after completing two races with the old one.
The Nuerburgring is also a home race for BMW and Nick Heidfeld as well as Williams' Nico Rosberg, who has German nationality despite being the son of Finland's 1982 world champion Keke.
Heidfeld started on pole last year for Williams and finished second.
Toyota, with their team based in nearby Cologne, will have a strong presence at the race with the entire factory workforce invited to attend.
Italian Jarno Trulli, who took the first podium finish of his career at the Nuerburgring with Prost in 1999, could use the support as he seeks his first point of the year.
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