Madonna Di Campiglio: Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso reckons Michael Schumacher could be his biggest threat in the 2011 Formula One season despite the German`s struggles on his comeback with Mercedes last year.
Sporting a three musketeer-like beard, a swashbuckling Alonso came out fighting in his first news conference of the year and has overcome the disappointment at missing out on last year`s title after a strategy error at the Abu Dhabi finale.
The 2005 and 2006 champion surprised the packed auditorium of journalists from around the world on Thursday when he singled out 42-year-old Schumacher as his main early rival.
"There will be five world champions on the track and the most dangerous champion for me is always Michael," he said.
"Now in January if I have to choose one name I have to say Michael. He is seven-times champion. He has nothing to prove. He had a difficult season but he is still a champion. He is still super class and if the car is right he will be a contender."
Schumacher, who finished ninth last year in his first season since retiring at the end of 2006, will be joined on the grid by Alonso and current title holder Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and McLaren`s two former champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Vettel remains a clear threat but Alonso hopes team mate Felipe Massa can improve on his sixth place last season.
"Hopefully our car is better than the others and my toughest rival next year is Felipe," Alonso said on Ferrari`s ski trip.
"No doubt Sebastian will be a contender. He will have experience and will be calm in certain moments. He will drive better than last year and that makes him dangerous to us. McLaren will also be one of the favourites."
F1 will hold a record 20 races this year and Alonso thinks physical and mental fitness will be crucial, especially given the restrictions on testing which he wants relaxed.
"I like 20 races, I like racing, competing so to have more races is welcome," he smiled. "But I also like testing so I`d like 20 races and more testing. It`s not easy and it`s unfair for new drivers that they cannot test more."
Pat Fry, known to Alonso from the driver`s unhappy time at McLaren, has taken over as Ferrari`s head of race track engineering after Chris Dyer was moved aside following the Abu Dhabi pitstop debacle.
The Spaniard has found positives from the painful episode. "When you succeed the emotions, feelings don`t make you think of the general view of what happened. When you don`t succeed, you look into the details," added Alonso, who wants a race on whatever vehicle with MotoGP`s Valentino Rossi.