BUDAPEST, July 29, 2011 (AFP) - Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari team enjoyed a brief celebration of the Spanish driver's 30th birthday on Friday
morning and then, a few minutes later, found themselves putting out a minor fire at the rear of his car.
As usual, the two-times world champion took both in his smiling stride, happy to be back in business as a competitive Formula One driver in opening
practice for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix.
A win at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix, sandwiched between two second places at the European and German Grands Prix, had lifted his and the
Italian team's morale as they began the task of catching runaway leader German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in the title race.
Alonso, in a bright mood as expected, still believes that despite only one win in four races the defending champion and his Red Bull team are the
dominant force - and the team to be beaten - but said he felt confident and relaxed. Even turning 30, and leaving his twenties behind, had not upset him as many observers pointed out, noting that Alonso was still following Michael Schumacher footsteps in arriving at Ferrari with two world titles to his name.
The German driver, who is 42, then went on to deliver five more drivers' championships in his time with the scarlet scuderia. "People talk a lot about these things, don't they?" said Alonso. "But, to be honest, I never I'd have two world championships at 30. "I knew how difficult it is to succeed in Formula One and I was extremely lucky. I'm not thinking to have seven world titles as Michael has at 42-years-old.
"Now, F1 is so competitive, so close, so it's hard to see such a dominant figure again. Seven will be a record that will stay for many, many years." A birthday cake, some mouth-watering Italian biscotti and ice cream may be on the menu for later, but Alonso was more concerned with the reality of lap times and his car performance.
Asked if he felt Ferrari were now edging out Red Bull as the fastest team, he rejected the idea. "No, I don't think so. First and second in Silverstone qualifying, first and third at the Nurburgring - still dominant.
"We need both cars in the top three constantly in qualifying and in the race if we want to say that Ferrari is dominant in this moment." Looking ahead to his weekend's work at the Hungaroring, he was more optimistic. "I have no doubts that the softer tyres work a bit better with our car, so we can maximise them in the race. Obviously we also want it as hot as possible, but at the moment it is raining so hopefully we will see for Saturday and Sunday.
"We repeat a couple of times, we had a wind tunnel issue (at the start of the season), so we struggled to understand our problems. "It was a shame to have these three or four months with the issue, but now it is also very encouraging that the problems are in the past and we are confident for the rest of the season and also for next year.
"I think we need to make another step forward now because as I said Red Bull is still the reference. We have to try and change that."