Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is confident that new signing Fernando Alonso can defeat the squad's former leader Michael Schumacher, provided Ferrari delivers a car good enough to beat Mercedes.
Alonso was seen as the major challenger to Schumacher's status as Formula 1's finest driver in the German's final years before retirement, and his comeback will allow their battle to resume. Domenicali has no doubt about how strong Schumacher will be in 2010, but thinks Alonso is ready for the challenge.
"Everyone will look at Michael as very strong, of course," said Domenicali. "As Michael decided to address this challenge, he is convinced he will have a car which can give him the possibility to show once again the driver that he is.
"Last year, when we tackled the issue of substituting Felipe [Massa], we thought about him because we are convinced that Michael is an extraordinary, very strong driver. From this point of view, Fernando has all that is necessary to defeat him. But a driver can be the best in the world but without the best tools, even the best in the world will have problems winning. It will be up to us to give him the right car."
Schumacher's comeback with Mercedes' new works project has led to some criticism in Italy following the seven-time champion's 14-year relationship with Ferrari, but Domenicali said that seeing Schumacher in a rival car would inspire his team.
"We have seen some fans not appreciate Michael's choice," he said. "But we should not forget history, what Michael has done with Ferrari, just as we should not forget what Ferrari has done for Michael. Now we turn the page, it is a further stimulus for us that we feel within ourselves. We have to show – also to Michael – that this is the strongest team. It's a constructive stimulus, a greater will to show that we can win."
Even so, he conceded, "It was difficult to see Michael with his helmet on elsewhere – some wound always remains."
Domenicali also has no concerns about possible tension between Alonso and teammate Massa, despite the Spaniard's reputation for wanting number one status – and Ferrari's insistence that it will no longer operate this policy.
"If by explosive you mean a couple of drivers who are strong, aggressive, competitive and have the ambition to win, this is the minimum goal that Ferrari must have together with its drivers," said Domenicali when asked about the potential for intra-team fireworks. "Let's not forget that our characteristic has always been putting the interest of the team at the core of everything, both Felipe and Fernando know what our context is, how they have to move and the rules of our team.
"When you have strong drivers, you have to manage them, this is true, but what is most important is to give them a car which may be a winning car or a competitive car from the start, and they will be able, as professional as they are, to take it to the end of races in the best possible position.
"I tackle things calmly. The rules are very clear: whoever comes to Ferrari knows where they are working and they appreciate how we work. In the case of Felipe and Kimi [Raikkonen], in one year one driver was ahead of the other, in the second year the opposite happened, and so there was a form of respect.
"To be the fastest doesn't only depend on oneself, it depends on the context, on races which come out in a specific way which allow you to tackle the championship or lead you to help your teammate to win the championship. This is something that from the outside people try to generate competition within our team and to attack us on this front, but it is more rational and calm than what might appear from abroad and the outside."
He believes that the atmosphere in the team has already improved with Alonso alongside Massa.
"It's a sparkling environment," Domenicali said. "It's like a gush of fresh air which brings new stimuli."