MELBOURNE, March 14 (Reuters) - Red Bull kept their cards close to their chest in winter testing and it would be a surprise if the Formula One champions were not setting the pace at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, according to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
“I’m not sure about McLaren but Red Bull 100 percent they didn’t push the limit of the car because they have this advantage of the last three years that they have a very dominant car, and they feel comfortable,” the Spaniard told reporters at the team’s Melbourne launch on Thursday.
“They feel optimistic and they will use the full potential in the race when arrives the time.”
Red Bull finished winter testing in Spain with little fanfare, with reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, the only driver among the leading five teams not to have topped the end-of-day timesheets, suggesting they had not ticked all the boxes.
While Alonso expected Red Bull to have maintained their edge, he was thrilled with Ferrari’s new F138 car, describing it after testing as “200 times better” than its predecessor.
“It will be a surprise if Red Bull is not in front of everybody after the advantage they had last year, but I am also confident, and I am optimistic that we have reduced this gap a lot,” added Alonso, dressed in a pair of jeans and a team shirt.
“So, maybe we are not the fastest, but we are not 1.5 seconds behind as we were last year.”
Alonso, who won championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006, finished second behind triple world champion Vettel last year despite his F2012 car being plagued by mechanical problems for much of the season.
It was the second time he had finished runner-up to the German in three years and Alonso said it was time to change the equation in his fourth season with Ferrari.
Key to that would be a podium spot in the season-opener at Albert Park circuit, said the Spaniard, who has grim memories of last year’s race when he finished fifth after starting 12th on the grid courtesy of a spin onto the gravel during qualifying.
His Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa crashed out of the race after qualifying 16th.
“Every year you start with fresh motivation. It doesn’t matter really what happened the previous season or how you finished the championship,” Alonso said.
“But it’s true that in the fourth year of (being at) Ferrari ... we really need to change this result.
“This year we have a better car to start the championship and we just need to keep improving race and race.
“If we fight to the last race with (this) car this year I am much more optimistic.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford)