Fernando Alonso is "positive" Ferrari will be there or thereabouts when it comes to challenging for the 2013 Championship.
After sitting out the first pre-season test at Jerez, the Spaniard got a taste of the action in the new F138 at the Circuit de Catalunya on Tuesday and he was immediately impressed with what he saw.
The two-time World Champion was the busiest driver at the Barcelona track having completed more than 100 laps and he also posted the third fastest time of the day - a 1:22.952.
This is in stark contrast to their 2012 fortunes when Ferrari struggled during pre-season and also found themselves well off the pace of the front-runners when the season eventually got underway.
Alonso is naturally pleased with the way the Italian squad have started this year.
"I'm sure we will be strong [at the first race] in Australia," he is quoted as saying by BBC Sport.
"To improve the first part of the year is not going to be too difficult so we are relatively confident."
The Spaniard finished three points behind Sebastian Vettel in the race for the Drivers' Championship last year and he feels can definitely challenge for honours again this year given how much progress they have made.
He added: "At the end of the year we were quite far from [pace-setters] Red Bull and McLaren, in a group with force Force India and Sauber behind Lotus," Alonso said.
"We cannot be in that group; we have to be in the group with the leaders. We have to do a good job this winter.
"We are trying some new parts in this test, more in the last test and more in Australia, so Friday (practice) in Australia will be also important and we need to arrive in a better condition than we finished.
"But the competitors are doing a good job and it will be interesting.
"My only optimism about 2013 is that I fought for the Championship last year with a car that was two seconds off the pace in winter and in the first four races we were struggling to get into Q3 and even in those problems we were fighting for the Championship.
"So we need to be positive and think we will fight this year for the Championship if we improve the car a little bit."
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