Alonso happy with Ferrari but Lotus a concern

MELBOURNE Sun Mar 17, 2013 9:13am EDT

1 of 2. Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain performs a pit stop during the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne March 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Brandon Malone

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Fernando Alonso sounded upbeat about Ferrari's Formula One title chances on Sunday despite being outpaced by Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus in a thrilling Australian season-opener.

The sport's most successful team made a far more promising start than last year, when they had a troubled car, with Alonso's Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa finishing fourth in the new F138.

Along with champions Red Bull, Ferrari were emphatically upstaged by the winning team, however, as Raikkonen stormed to victory with one less pit-stop and on only his second change of tires.

"Obviously it was fantastic race, with fighting all through the race," two times world champion Alonso told reporters.

"I personally enjoyed it. At the end it was a little bit sad not to be able to win the race, but Kimi was fantastic today, the Lotus car as well.

"We had a very difficult start to the season two years ago and last year as well and this year is very different. We feel much more optimistic. The car is responding well, we are competitive so we have a very interesting season ahead of us."

Alonso, who had to pit three times, finished more than 12 seconds adrift of 2007 world champion and Ferrari predecessor Raikkonen, prompting questions about the team's three-stop strategy.

"It is a worry, yes," Alonso responded, when asked about Lotus's success with only two stops.

"Kimi was driving fantastically all through the race and he managed two stops, so we need to analyze what we can do for the next race.

"We have only four days to work on the car to prepare for the next race and I think he will again be a tough opponent."

Ferrari head into the next stop at Malaysia top of the constructors championship, a year after limping to Sepang with worrying mechanical problems on the back of a fifth place finish to Alonso and a retirement to Massa at Albert Park.

"We had a good race pace and both drivers performed well without making any mistakes," technical director Pat Fry said.

"But we are aware that we still have a lot of work to do if we want to continue to improve. Maybe we could have risked a two stop strategy, but given the unknowns linked to tire degradation, we preferred not to do that.

"In the next races, it will be vital to understand the tyre behavior, in order to choose the best strategies."

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

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