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Double world champion Fernando Alonso believes Ferrari might still have the upper hand, in spite of his McLaren team leading both Formula One championships and celebrating a one-two in Malaysia last weekend.
“I think we didn’t confuse ourselves after the great result on Sunday,” the Spaniard said on Thursday prior to Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. “We will keep our feet on the ground, knowing that with all we saw in the winter, and in Australia as well, it is quite possible that we see something similar here in Bahrain, with Ferrari ahead of everybody.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen dominated the Australian season-opener last month, winning from pole position and setting the fastest lap. The Finn finished third in Malaysia, unable to unleash his engine’s full power for fear of damage, with Alonso leapfrogging him in the championship to take a two-point lead while McLaren extended their advantage to nine points. Raikkonen’s Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa, quickest in pre-season testing in Bahrain, started on pole position at Sepang but was overtaken by both Alonso and his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the first corner before the pair secured first and second respectively.
Alonso said McLaren still had concerns about their real pace, however, particularly in the light of their test performances at the desert track.
“I think we still have some doubts,” he said. “On the last day of testing here we saw that we were struggling a little bit with BMW and Renault, and Ferrari for sure in front of everybody. I think we did some improvements in the car and this weekend we will see the result. I think we should be more competitive than in the test, hopefully not so much the others.”
Raikkonen, who switched from McLaren to Ferrari just as Alonso arrived from Renault this season, was confident his team’s fortunes were about to improve. “I think we are going to be much happier here than we were at the last race,” he said. “It’s going to be a big battle against them (McLaren) but in a way that’s quite nice.”
Meanwhile, British rookie Hamilton has the opportunity to make F1 history on Sunday. No driver, not Michael Schumacher nor anyone else in the series dating back to 1950, has ever started his F1 career with three consecutive finishes in the top three. Hamilton, 22, has a third and a second to his name so far. The last driver to take two F1 podium finishes in his first two races was Britain’s Peter Arundell in 1964, but he could manage only ninth in his third.
■CRICKET Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara scored half-centuries to hand New Zealand their first defeat at the World Cup on Thursday in their Super Eights game in St George’s, Grenada.
Sri Lanka won by six wickets with 29 balls to spare, ending a streak of nine one-day wins by New Zealand.
New Zealand, who won the toss and chose to bat, struggled early in their innings before Scott Styris’s undefeated 111 steadied them to a total of 219 for 7.
Jayasuriya scored 64 and Sangakkara made 69 not out as Sri Lanka cruised to 222-4 in reply.
■HORSERACING Exotic Dancer gained handsome compensation for his second place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Kauto Star by winning the Betfair Bowl Chase on the opening day of the Aintree Grand National meeting. The 6/4 favourite, ridden by Tony McCoy and trained by Jonjo O’Neill, survived some early mistakes to finish 13 lengths clear of runner-up My Will, partnered by Ruby Walsh. The Paul Nicholls-trained My Will had a further 12 lengths to spare over Our Vic in third.
Earlier, Mighty Man completed consecutive victories in the John Smith’s Liverpool Hurdle with a 13-length success. Pushed into the lead by Richard Johnson after the sixth-last flight, the Henry Daly-trained gelding led all the way to the line in the extended three-mile contest. Following the 15/8 shot in second was Black Jack Ketchum, the 7/4 favourite, with Inglis Drever another nine lengths back in third.
■RUGBY UNION Jason Robinson calls time on his club career tonight. The Sale and England star is set for an emotional departure from Edgeley Park when he lines up against Guinness Premiership visitors Bath.
Although the 32-year-old winger or full-back bows out of club rugby, a final farewell will not arrive until England’s World Cup campaign finishes in France later this year. Robinson has made himself available for England duty this summer and at the World Cup, having made a successful international return during the recent RBS 6 Nations Championship some 18 months after he first retired from England duty.
Robinson said: ‘‘I enjoyed the recent Six Nations and scored four tries in the competition. I have made myself available for the forthcoming games in South Africa ([England play two Tests in late May and early June), and will, if selected, bow out trying to help England retain the World Cup.’’
His immediate priority, though, is to help deposed Premiership champions Sale end an injury-ravaged campaign on home soil by recording just an eighth league win in 21 starts.
He added: ‘‘It will be an emotional occasion saying goodbye to the Sale Sharks supporters at the game.
‘‘They have built in numbers and followed us loyally over the last seven seasons, and I wanted my last club game to be at Edgeley Park to say goodbye.”
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has been named RBS 6 Nations player of the tournament for a second successive season as a result of a supporters’ poll.