Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali believes that Fernando Alonso is not only the best driver in Formula 1, but that in some ways he is better than Michael Schumacher - who won five world titles with the Italian outfit.
Domenicali, speaking at the Wrooom Summer 2011 event at Madonna di Campiglio, said that Alonso has bonded with Ferrari much faster than Schumacher did when he joined in the winter of 1995
"For me, Fernando is the number one driver in F1 at the moment," said Domenicali. "I see a lot of similarities with Michael Schumacher, a driver who made his mark on our history. In fact, in some areas Fernando is even better, for example when I think of the speed with which he integrated himself into the team and the way he became its leader.
"In this he was much quicker than Michael who took a while to do that."
When told of this Alonso responded: "I don't know what to say, except that I immediately felt comfortable at Ferrari.
"But it would be very difficult to repeat what Michael did, because things are very different now to what they were a decade ago. Having said that, I am currently experiencing the best years of my career and that makes me very optimistic for the future."
Domenicali added that he believed Felipe Massa was also turning his season around, having come in from criticism earlier in the season for not matching Alonso's pace.
"I have seen that he was clearly on the up in the last three races and I am sure he will do very well in the second part of the year," said Domenicali. "Felipe has to stay calm and make the most of his talents, of which there are many: he is a very quick driver over a single lap, but maybe he needs to improve a bit in terms of his consistency in the races.
"It is definitely not easy being paired with someone like Fernando, but that should be a motivation for him not an excuse. For us, it is vital for Felipe to be on top of his game, given that for at least another year and a half, he is one of our drivers."
Alonso added that he was very happy to be driving alongside Massa, but added that he would not be concerned about being teamed with anyone - including his old McLaren nemesis Lewis Hamilton.
Asked what he thought of Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton's remarks that they would not rule out joining Ferrari at some point in their careers, Alonso replied: "It seems a normal thing to say: all drivers want to race for Ferrari. Some might say it openly, others deny it even if they are thinking it.
"For my part, it makes me feel even more privileged, because I am at Ferrari now and I will be for many years to come, at least to the end of 2016. I am very happy to have Felipe as a team-mate and we work very well together.
"If the day arrives when someone else was to come here, that would not be a problem for me, even if it was Hamilton."
Domenicali though said he thought it unlikely that Hamilton would be a part of the Ferrari set-up anytime in the near future.
"I am pleased he said never say never on the subject of Ferrari, in fact it is logical that everyone aspires to come to Maranello sooner or later, given what we represent in the history of this sport," he said. "Having said that, I don't think the question will arise, neither in the short nor in the long term.
"For the Ferrari of the future, I believe the right combination is to have one well established driver with great experience, alongside a talented youngster on the way up. I do not think that, with the pressure we are under, we can consider having two youngsters in the team at the same time."