Fernando Alonso thinks Michael Schumacher's decision to turn his back on Ferrari and return to Formula 1 with Mercedes GP has been a boost in helping him settle in more quickly at Maranello.
After a promising start to this year, having won the season opener in Bahrain, Alonso thinks the fact he does not have to operate under Schumacher's shadow has been a positive for him and the team.
"Now, maybe, we're a little freer," Alonso said about life at Ferrari after Schumacher, in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Despite seeing the benefit of Schumacher's return, Alonso has expressed shock at the seven-time champion's decision to throw himself back into competitive action.
"Yes, a lot," he said when asked if he was surprised by Schumacher's move. "I was even more surprised that he came back...with the calm life he could have lived and with such a past."
Alonso says he is relishing his life at Ferrari, and thinks that although Red Bull Racing has been the pacesetter so far this year, his own team is favorite for the title.
"Red Bull is stronger in the qualifying and they are very fast; but we can catch up in the race," he said. "McLaren knows how to develop its cars very fast, but we're not joking either. Total: Ferrari favorite for the championship."
Speaking about whether driving for Ferrari was as he imagined, Alonso said: "No, it's different. It's even better. I expected to come to the strongest team, being able to benefit from the potential. But Ferrari is much more: it's a passion, a philosophy, a way of life. I'm contaminated by this emotion."
His relationship with teammate Felipe Massa has been under the spotlight, especially following a pit lane overtaking move in China, but Alonso says he is enjoying working with the Brazilian.
"Felipe and I are complementary," he said. "While I'm missing something in some corners, I am faster in some sections. Learning from each other is a secret. Who could create problems? [Jenson] Button and [Lewis] Hamilton."
When asked if he would repeat the pit lane move on Massa if the opportunity came up again, Alonso said: "Absolutely, yes."