SEPANG, Malaysia, March 22, 2012 (AFP) - Sauber's Sergio Perez played down rumours linking him to embattled Ferrari Thursday, as Fernando Alonso insisted the Italian team could still challenge for this year's Formula One title.
Mexican Perez, who impressed with his eighth-place finish at last week's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, said he was concentrating solely on Sauber despite suggestions he could replace Ferrari's struggling Felipe Massa.
"I'm really focused with my team, with Sauber. I think we have a great car. There's nothing more that I can say," Perez, 22, told journalists.
"I'm just focused with my team, to try to make as many points as possible because we have a very competitive car, and try to make the most of the car we have... Those rumours are only rumours."
Massa, whose contract runs out this year, finished sixth in last season's drivers' championship and failed to complete Sunday's race in Melbourne, fuelling speculation he will be axed by the sport's most successful marque.
But two-time champion Alonso dragged the unimpressive F2012 to fifth at Albert Park and he said Ferrari could not be counted out of the title race, despite indications that McLaren and Red Bull will dominate.
"The target is always to win the championship but it was not possible the previous three years. This year, we are convinced we will fight for it," said the Spaniard.
"So we need to stay focused, to work more than the others knowing that we're behind now. But the championship is long.
"We stay calm, we stay focused we give a lot of determination in the team... so hopefully the time will come to us very soon."
Alonso added that the next two races, in Malaysia on Sunday and in China on April 15, would be critical to Ferrari's challenge. He won the drivers' title with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
"After 11 years in Formula One I think you understand how long the championship is, what you need when you have the best car and what you need when you don't have the best car," Alonso said.
"We need to score as many points as possible in this couple of races and then in a very short period of time try to get on the podium and win races."
Alonso wondered whether Ferrari could gain assistance from Malaysia's notoriously stormy weather, which has the potential to turn the race on its head.
"We can't expect any big miracles from here to Australia because the cars are identical, but who knows? I think in Australia also no one thought we could finish fifth," he said.
"So here with a normal race maybe we'll finish further behind. Maybe with a more crazy race, or rain or something, we can finish in front," added the Spaniard.