Monday, March 27, 2006

Alonso confident of keeping crown

Australian GP, 2 April. Start: 0500 GMT

World champion Fernando Alonso is convinced he can retain his title after a fine start to the season by Renault.

The 24-year-old Spaniard won the opening race of the season in Bahrain and was second as Renault completed a one-two in Malaysia two weeks ago.

"Having seen what the car can do, I don't have any doubts that we can win the Championship again," he said.

"We know the car is competitive, and it gives me the conviction that we can be quick at the next 16 rounds too."

Alonso is leaving Renault at the end of the season to join McLaren but his team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella, is determined to deny him a parting success in the race for the drivers' title.

"In the winter, I said I wanted to go for the championship, and these races have shown that I have the chance to do well at every circuit, and to fight for the title," Fisichella said.

"That is my dream, and my goal this year. I think Renault will be very competitive in Australia, and I am going for the win."

Team boss Flavio Briatore, who believes Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren will provide the biggest challenges to his two drivers this season, has called for more changes to be made to qualifying.

In the latest of a series of changes, a new knockout system was introduced for this season, replacing the previous method in which each driver got one lap each.

"I think the knockout system is very good, and spectacular for the spectators, but I am still not happy with the first part of the third session," Briatore said.

"At the moment, we are going round for no reason, and it doesn't make sense for the people or for our image with the environment.

"I think the final session should be 15 minutes long and you fuel beforehand. You then qualify, and whatever load you finish the session with, then you start the race like that."

Currently, cars fuel up before the start of the final session and are topped up at the end of it according to a pre-arranged formula.

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