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Brawn: Alonso will be Hard to Beat

Michael Schumacher may have met his match in Renault's Fernando Alonso

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn conceded after Sunday's thrilling San Marino Grand Prix that the young Spaniard represented as great a threat as any the seven-times World Champion has faced in recent years.

Yet Brawn was also elated by the Ferrari ace's dazzling performance, moving up from 13th on the grid to second with a string of fastest laps before hustling and harrying Alonso for the last 12 to the chequered flag.

Schumacher, at 36 the oldest driver in Formula One, blew away any notion that he might be over the hill and his powers in decline.

"This is probably as tough a challenge as he has faced, Fernando is driving extremely well, much better than we've seen before," said Brawn after Alonso had celebrated his third win in a row and Renault's fourth in four races.

The 23-year-old has 36 points to Schumacher's 10 and twice as many as his nearest rival, Toyota's Italian Jarno Trulli.

"What pleased me was how much fight Michael had in him," added the Briton who has been the tactical mastermind guiding Schumacher from the pit wall for most of the German's career. "He is so competitive, and what you saw today is that he's still got the ability.

"At his age he's got this huge passion and huge hunger to do well and he's still got that raw ability. I think he's got lots of mileage left in him," said Brawn.

"He relishes the competition and I think Fernando is going to be a very tough guy to beat this year. But even if we get beaten this year I suspect Michael is going to want to redress the balance next year.

"We are just reminded of how good he is," said Brawn. "We often joke with him that it wasn't bad today for an old man and he takes it all in good humour.

"With any driver you are waiting for that point where they are starting to go down the other side, and he's just not doing that. He's still fantastically fit, hungry, passionate and you saw the performance he had today."

The German had made a rare error in final qualifying, skidding wide at the Rivazza corner.

He started on row seven, seemingly a hammer blow to his hopes of victory in front of the depleted ranks of Ferrari fans at a circuit named after team founder Enzo and son Dino.

After three races with just two points - his worst start to a season in 14 years in Formula One - it seemed Schumacher's famed sure touch and luck was leaking away.

The most successful driver the sport has seen, with 83 wins and most of the records, has not won since October and did not look like doing so again at a circuit where he had won five times in the past six years.

He was furious and it showed.

"He was so angry," said Brawn. "To come out of that and put in the performance he did just shows how exceptional he is."

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