MELBOURNE, March 15, 2012 (AFP / Tim Collings) - Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicali Thursday insisted the iconic team could challenge for the title this year despite disappointing in 2011 and in pre-season testing.
Hitting back at suggestions that his team were again lagging the front-runners, Domenicali said that the Italian outfit "will be in the fight" when the season gets underway with this week's Australian Grand Prix.
Alonso finished fourth last season with team-mate Felipe Massa sixth, while Ferrari were third in the constructors' championship behind Red Bull and McLaren.
After the final pre-season tests in Barcelona, the team cancelled their drivers' media opportunities.
Alonso admitted preparations had been "tough" as the drivers grappled with a "complex car". But he said no one could predict how they would shape up until qualifying on Saturday.
"I'm confident. I'm very relaxed about the possibilities of our car," he said during a Shell promotional event.
"I think the winter has been tough for us with so many tests to do," added
"It's quite a complex car in terms of set-up and understanding it. Maybe we didn't reach our targets but it doesn't mean that we are slower than the other cars. That we will not know until Saturday.
"We want to be world champions in November, that's the ultimate target, and in Melbourne we need to have a good start. But we will find out howncompetitive we are on Saturday."
Domenicali said: "It is always like this at the start of the year and everyone is eager to get going with a new challenge," he said.
"It's going to be a very long season and, at least as far as we can see it, a very unpredictable one -- there are many teams who look like being in the hunt, especially in the early stages.
"We arrive in Australia knowing we have not reached our goals in terms of performance for a variety of reasons, which we have discussed at length over the past few days.
"But, I wish to repeat what I said before, we still need to wait a few days before knowing where we stand in relation to the others.
"I'm convinced that we will be in the fight and we will be there right to the end. I said the same thing at the end of last season -- and if we happen to do well in the first race, we will not be making a show of ourselves, just as we must not feel downhearted if we are not competitive at the highest level.
"All we must do is stay focused on the job of developing the car. The championship does not end until the end of November, which is something we should never forget. Let's see what happens here."
The celebrated Italian brand has not won the constructors' title since 2008, when they won it for the 16th time by 21 points from McLaren.