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Alonso praises Hamilton ahead of Canadian GP

india Updated: Jun 08, 2007 19:31 IST

AFP
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Double world champion Fernando Alonso has praised the early-season performances of his McLaren Mercedes-Benz teammate Lewis Hamilton - but warned that he has no intention of giving up his place as the team's outright number one driver.

Briton Hamilton, 22, has finished on the podium in each of his first five races, the most successful opening run of results by a rookie in the sport's history.

He now sits level on points with Alonso at the top of the drivers' championship and McLaren are 20 points clear at the top of the constructors' standings.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, a race he won last year, Alonso acknowledged Hamilton's flying start and said he was now keen to press home his own superiority.

Alonso said, "We need to wait and see how the championship develops, but, for sure, it's been a very good start for the team and for Lewis. Thanks to everybody's points, we are doing great in both championships."

Alonso drove to a comfortable victory on the streets of Monte Carlo in last month's Monaco Grand Prix, when second-placed Hamilton was controversially told to slow down and protect a McLaren one-two finish.

The Spaniard brushed aside suggestions that Hamilton would have challenged him for victory had the team not intervened. And, he added, that he is keen to cement his position as McLaren's outright number one driver.

"I know the British press suggested that (team orders were applied), but if you get to the first pit stop with a 10-second disadvantage to your team-mate, then it's hard to pass him, even if you stop later," he said.

"Obviously the team can still have doubts over who should be the first driver. We are tied in the points, we have the same chances, but winning at Monaco was clearly important from this point of view, so I must take advantage of it now."

Hamilton, the first man of Afro-Caribbean origins to compete in Formula One, will be racing in Montreal for the first time.

Even so, the 22-year-old Englishman is sure to have his sights set on ending a run of four consecutive second places with a maiden victory.

"I cannot wait to get back on track and continue to focus on racing," he said. "Because of the chances there are to pass (in Montreal), it looks like a great track to compete on. I am looking forward to it.

"It has some very distinctive characteristics, such as the low grip, the long straights, hard braking and so on. My initial laps will focus on understanding all these things and how best to drive the track to get good times."

Though both are confident, the two McLaren men recognise also that they are unlikely to dominate as easily in North America, where the F1 circus will remain for the United States Grand Prix a week later, as they did in Monaco.

Alonso has tipped Ferrari as favourites for both Montreal and Indianapolis, and their Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who was third at Monaco, where he finished more than a minute behind the two McLarens, has said he believes the Italian team will respond with a strong performance.

"I think the Ferrari will run as a very strong package in Canada," Massa said.

"One difficulty on the Montreal circuit is that it is not used much so its grip level changes dramatically throughout the weekend, so you have to be careful not to chase the set-up too much.

"It is also useful to have a car that is comfortable riding the kerbs as you have to use them here to get quick laps. It is a circuit where a good package can deliver a very good result."

Canada is a crucial race for Massa's team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who has slipped 15 points behind the championship leaders after a series of poor races.