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Motor racing-Title race wide open, insists Alonso

Written by: Staff

MELBOURNE, Mar 30 (Reuters) While Renault have gotten off to a flying start to the 2006 Formula One campaign, Fernando Alonso expects a stiff challenge to his world title on several different fronts. Renault, the reigning champions, go into the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park with a 13-point lead over Ferrari and McLaren after Alonso won the season opener in Bahrain and team mate Giancarlo Fisichella led a Renault 1-2 at Sepang. ''There are eight drivers from the top four teams who can win races and fight for the title,'' the Spaniard told reporters today.

''We will have to wait until the final five or six races of the season until we find out who is still there.'' Alonso said last season's championship runner-up Kimi Raikkonen and his McLaren team mate Juan Pablo Montoya would be more competitive this weekend.

Ferrari duo of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa and Honda's Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were also viable title contenders.

''McLaren will be better here, they have developed, we have to keep moving or we'll be left behind. Hopefully by the middle of the season there will there will be only two drivers (who can win the title).'' The springboard for Renault's all-conquering season in 2005 was Fisichella's victory at the season opener on the street circuit in Melbourne's suburbs, with Alonso claiming third.

But the Spaniard believes the teams arrive in Australia this time around in a much tighter competitive zone.

''In Sepang it was a very close fight with (Jenson) Button and this season is not turning out like last year. Then we were winning races by a 20-25 seconds gap. There is much more competition this year.'' Alonso said the Melbourne circuit demanded total concentration.

''Braking is quite difficult on a bumpy circuit like this, you can easily make mistakes and blow the whole race.

''We won the first four races last season, now we've only won two so we need to win another two races to build up ourselves a nice gap. At the moment, the gap is not enough.'' REUTERS PM SND1122

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