SUZUKA // Fernando Alonso, a double world champion, in 2005 and 2006, is confident he will be battling it out for another title in his first season at Ferrari after agreeing a lucrative move to the team for 2010. The Spaniard will reportedly be paid £18million (Dh105m) a year to drive for the team and he said he was hopeful of repaying Ferrari's faith immediately.
"There will be pressure on me to win titles," said Alonso, 28. "Winning a race here and there is not enough at Ferrari. The pressure will be to be champion again and I believe I can do that next season. "I feel well prepared already for next season and, for sure there is more I can do. I've got a three-year deal and hopefully I can win at least one title in that time. Can I do it next year? Why not."
Alonso's switch in place of Kimi Raikkonen has long been an open secret in Formula One with the deal being a case of when rather than if it was announced. Describing it as a dream come true, he said that Ferrari "has always been in my heart". He added: "For me, it is the perfect step for my career, the one thing left for me to be complete. "Hopefully I can continue as long as I want and I can finish my career here with a lot of wins. I really feel Ferrari will be my last team. To leave Ferrari would be a step backwards so I hope to never leave."
The Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali also hoped that Alonso would add to his world titles although he refused to draw parallels to Michael Schumacher, who won five of his seven world titles during a dominant spell at the team. "Fernando's one of the best drivers of his time and we always want to have the best drivers at Ferrari," he said. "To achieve what Michael did is difficult but Alonso has already shown himself to be a great champion so anything is possible."
Alonso was also reluctant to draw comparisons to the man he beat to the world title in the German's final two seasons in the sport. "I would like to do the same as Michael and win many championships with Ferrari," he said. "But it is going to be very difficult. I don't arrive here to do the same as Michael although I would definitely like to do the same." The deal with Alonso was likely to be the last brokered by Flavio Briatore, who is now serving his lifetime ban from F1.
And Alonso paid tribute to his former manager and team boss, and revealed that the flamboyant Italian was not too despondent following the punishment for his role in 'Crashgate' at last year's Singapore Grand Prix. "I've spoken to Flavio and he was very happy," he said. "He knows what Ferrari means and is extremely happy for me. As for him, he didn't seem too worried. He was relaxing on the beach yesterday."
Domenicali also paid tribute to Raikkonen ahead of his final three races before being replaced. The Italian said: "You will never hear me speak in the negative about Kimi, never. I feel he is a great talent and he will always be a great champion and forever be in the Ferrari history. "All things have to be put on the table, the positive and the negative. I think all the drivers have different characteristics; Kimi has a pragmatic approach to the team but he is part of the team and he is working very well with the team."
Raikkonen is tipped to announce a move to McLaren as Hamilton's teammate next season although the 2007 world champion was tight-lipped about his future plans and warned he might yet walk away following the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 1. The Finn, who made a similar threat last season before extending his deal at Ferrari, said: "I haven't decided what to do next, whether I want to continue racing or not. I had a contract for next year and now not so maybe I will race, maybe I won't.
"There is a chance to do the World Rally Championship but there is also as much chance that I will continue in Formula One. If I stay in F1, it won't be at a small team as I want be sure that I can fight for the championship. "If I race next year, that would be my goal otherwise there'd be no point in being in Formula One. I achieved what I wanted but if I race then of course I want to win more races and titles."
Despite his comments, McLaren look the likely destination for Raikkonen, who drove for the team from 2002 to 2006 before leaving after falling out with former team boss Ron Dennis. The 2007 world champion said he had "no problem with the team" adding that "I had good times there and maybe again, we'll see". firstname.lastname@example.org