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..."
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 penalized for a misdemeanor 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."