Alonso tips Prancing Horse to kick back at Imola

FERNANDO ALONSO expects a Ferrari backlash in this weekend’s San Marino Grand Prix, and is prepared to accept second best at Imola.

The world champion beat Michael Schumacher by a whisker in San Marino last year, the only time Ferrari threatened Renault all season.

That dogged win is fresh in Alonso’s mind and he again expects Ferrari to find their form on home ground at Imola, a track which suits their Bridgestone tyres.

Alonso is even preparing himself for defeat at the hands of Schumacher - and plotting his revenge at the next race in Germany.

“All the weekends are important, but here for Ferrari is a good opportunity,” he said. “If they can win one race this season it will be this one.

“For sure they have a lot of optimism for this race but we got 10 points in Australia, so for me in the championship it would not be a big change. I prefer to finish second or third here and win at the Nurburgring again.”

Seven-time world champion Schumacher is confident he can return to the front after crashing in Australia three weeks ago.

But the German does not accept this weekend’s race is make or break for his world championship ambitions.

“Every race from now is important for us,” he said. “From now on it’s important we make up ground after the problems we suffered from in the first few races.

“This result will not break us. I don’t see it as a championship-deciding race, it’s not crucial. We believe in our abilities and we hope to prove them.” Schumacher has off-track issues to contend with as well, with his future again a hot topic of discussion.

As well as talk of a new Ferrari contract, recent rumours have linked him with unlikely switches to Renault or Red Bull.

Alonso’s departure for McLaren at the end of the season has opened a vacancy at the world champions but the Spaniard is convinced Schumacher will not be filling it. Penny-pinching Renault are unlikely to stretch to Schumacher’s hefty salary, especially for a driver in the twilight of his career and Alonso joked: “He will not come here for the money.”

He added: “Knowing the team and the bosses of the team, it’s impossible that Michael comes here.”

Schumacher continues to remain tight-lipped about his future, refusing to comment until he finally announces whether he will retire at the end of the season.

Yesterday he claimed he does not even know when he will make his mind up, saying: “I don’t think I have set a date to make my decision.” Alonso avoided that kind of uncertainty and unwanted paddock gossip by announcing his McLaren move a whole year in advance. Now the 24-year-old feels he is reaping the rewards of that controversial strategy, which took Renault and Flavio Briatore by surprise.

“Every week we have a new story about Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher or Juan Pablo Montoya,” he said.

“I didn’t want to happen to me. In the first races of the championship I wanted to be able to concentrate.

“Announcing the move to McLaren has some disadvantages but also some advantages - to be concentrating on winning and not every race answering a new rumour in the paddock.”

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