The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ferrari upbeat for 2013 after strongest F1 season start in 3 years at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia - With Fernando Alonso claiming second place at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday and fourth-placed Felipe Massa declaring himself back to his best, Ferrari had reason to celebrate its best start to a Formula One season in several years.

The Ferrari drivers outraced the qualifying pacesetters Red Bull to show they will be hard to beat for the 2013 championship.

"I am extremely happy," Alonso said. "We had an extremely difficult start to the season two years ago and last year, and this year is very different. We are very optimistic and have an interesting season ahead."

Ferrari had lacklustre season starts the past two years, with Alonso fourth and Massa seventh in 2011 and a fifth place for Alonso last year, while Massa spun out and failed to finish.

Massa, who came so close to winning the 2008 championship before his form declined following a serious accident in 2009, was back to his best in the closing races last season.

His performance Sunday indicated he had carried that improvement into the new campaign, and said he could have finished on the podium on Sunday if not for his three-stop tire change strategy, compared to two stops for race-winner Raikkonen.

"That was the biggest problem of my race. I wanted to stay on the track," the Brazilian said. "It feels a little too early when they (called me) to stop ... Both cars overtook me and then I was always behind these cars.

"Apart from this the race was good. It was positive. Even if I finished fourth, it's positive for the rest of the season, looking at how we finished last season," he said. "It was a good start for the championship."

Two-time world champion Alonso was thrilled to have outpaced the Red Bulls although a little concerned at the speed of race winner Kimi Raikkonen and the fact the Lotus was far gentler on its tires than the Ferraris, allowing it to make two stops compared to three for most other leading runners.

"It is a worry, yes," he said about the pitstop differential. "Lotus did a very good job and Kimi was driving fantastically and could do two stops. So we have to analyze it. We have only four days to the next race and we have tough opponents."

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