Ferrari primed for Aussie battle

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MELBOURNE, March 25- The Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa take the edge into Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after their one-two finish in the season opener in Bahrain a fortnight ago.Alonso, the Spanish two-time world champion, won on his Ferrari debut as he led Brazilian teammate Massa home in the Bahrain Grand Prix with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton third.

Ferrari last won in Melbourne three years ago and are coming off a dismal 2009 season when the Italian giants limped home in fourth place in the constructors’ championship behind Brawn, Red Bull Renault and McLaren for their lowest season finish since 1993.

Ferrari are expecting a sterner challenge from their main rivals around the Albert Park street circuit this weekend with reigning champion Jenson Button, then with Brawn, and Hamilton winners of the last two Australian races.

"The one-two win in Sakhir gave us confidence and was a great result but we can’t take anything for granted," Alonso said.

"We have to keep our feet on the ground. In Melbourne we’re starting from square one.

"Nothing has changed for me. There are four teams and eight drivers who can fight for victory and we have to give it our all to stay ahead of everybody else."

The Australian race offers an intriguing mix of four world champions and four race winners — Alonso, Hamilton, Button and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who is back on the circuit at the age of 41.

"I had a great race in Bahrain and despite losing time in the opening stint I’m pleased that we’ve got some decent points on the board," 2008 champion Hamilton said.

"I like the Melbourne circuit, I think we’ll go well there and I don’t think we’ll have the same problems that slowed our progress in Bahrain."

Schumacher, who dominated F1 racing before his retirement in 2006 with 91 wins in 249 GPs, has won the Australian race four times and can never be counted out of calculations, even if he has been away from the scene for three years.

"I am very happy with the outcome of the season opener in Bahrain," Schumacher said. "Sixth position was good for me, especially considering how few times I have driven an F1 car since my retirement.

"I am sure that Melbourne will help me to get into the rhythm even more and I am looking forward to it."

The Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Australian hope Mark Webber are looking to go one better than runner-up to Brawn last season.

Vettel began the season strongly in Bahrain until he was forced to slow down with reduced power and finished fourth.

"I think coming out of Bahrain we have very good cars so there is no reason we shouldn’t be competitive here," the German said.

Webber, who is always a focal point at his home GP, has had a frustrating sequence of results since his debut fifth placing for Minardi in 2002.

The Australian has failed to finish four times and was 12th last year.

"Red Bull Racing’s RB6 should be competitive this weekend, so my aim is to bang in a podium in Sunday’s race," Webber said.

"There will be a lot of competition at the front, particularly from Ferrari, but on the strength of the RB6’s pace in Bahrain my aim is to be at the sharp end from the outset."

The twisting 5.3-kilometre (3.3-mile) Albert Park circuit offers some tight corners, 16 of them dotted around the parkland layout, making overtaking difficult.

That will make Saturday’s qualifying for starting grid positions even more important than other races and with no refuelling stops allowed this season cars will be heavier.

Cars are estimated to be carrying around 170 kilograms’ (375 pounds) worth of fuel in Sunday’s race.

Practice gets underway on Friday.

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