Renault setting the standard, says Alonso

FERNANDO ALONSO is adamant Renault are “the team to beat” at Imola this weekend, but Michael Schumacher has warned the world champion against complacency.

Alonso has won two of the three races so far this season, helping him to a 14-point championship lead going into the San Marino Grand Prix.

The Spaniard is convinced world champions Renault, who are unbeaten this season, are faster than their rivals and expects to stretch his advantage.

He said: “We know Renault is the team to beat at the moment, the reference. I am really happy with our position, and very confident for the coming races.”

But seven-time world champion Schumacher claims Renault should not get carried away and is drawing inspiration from his championship battles of the past as he bids to regain his crown.

“I have been part of this world for a long time and it will not drive me crazy,” the Ferrari driver said. “I have already seen other championships completely turned around. The most important thing is that we have the potential and so everything is possible.”

Ferrari have struggled over the past two races but Alonso expects a return to Italy to bring fresh impetus to their challenge.

Imola was the high point of a dismal 2005 season for Ferrari, who saw Schumacher narrowly beaten by Alonso after a thrilling finish.

Alonso believes Bridgestone tyres will help Ferrari back to the front this weekend.

“Ferrari and McLaren will be our main opponents,” the 24-year-old said. “Ferrari dropped down in the last two races, but I think they will be back.

“Their tyres work well at this circuit, and it is their home grand prix, so I expect them to be extremely competitive.”

But Alonso hopes to avoid the nerve-jangling last laps of his 2005 win, when he doggedly held off Schumacher’s faster Ferrari.

“I enjoyed the final laps of the race last year, and it was an important race to win,” he added. “But if I can do it again this year, on my own, a long way in front, then that’s even better.”

For Schumacher the goal is clear - to win a proper grand prix for the first time since 2004.

“We want to do well at Imola and we want to be among the title challengers,” said Schumacher, whose only win last season came when just six cars started at Indianapolis.

“We have fine-tuned our package during the tests and I think that we have a car with which we can compete for victory.

“I do not believe that the gap to the leaders is too big to close. Imola should be the first step towards this.”

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