Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is excited by F1 golden era

By Andrew BensonBBC Sport

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso says the current Formula 1 field contains the strongest driver line-up in the history of the sport.

With the return of Kimi Raikkonen, there will be six world champions racing in 2012, more than ever before.

"It is great and it puts the level of the championship higher than ever," said double-champion Alonso.

"We will enjoy the championship, the spectators will enjoy it. We can have some good races with good emotion."

The 30-year-old - regarded by many within F1 as arguably the best driver on the grid - will be joined this year by fellow champions Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher.

"It is great years we are having," said Alonso in an exclusive BBC Sport interview. "We just need to enjoy [them] because we don't know how long we can be racing for these championships and how many times we will see this number of champions there."

Alonso narrowly missed out on a third title in 2010, his first season with Ferrari, but the team had a disappointing year last season with only one win.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali has said there can be "no more excuses" for underperformance from F1's most famous team.

Alonso added: "I expect a good comeback from the team.

"We have been working on the 2012 car quite good with some good changes that we introduce and some different approach, more aggressive and with a little bit more determination from everybody to get everything right.

"We took care of every detail of the car and I am confident we can do well. There is no doubt the competitors are very strong, so I think it will be a very tough competition. But hopefully we will be able to fight at the front."

He added: "We need to be honest with ourselves. We know we are Ferrari, we are fighting for the top level.

"We foresee ourselves, everyone, expecting Ferrari to win.

"If we are happy with second, fourth, third, it's OK [if] the season has been maximized, if we did a good job, but it is not our target in February. That is to be world champion.

"We understand that is not easy, this is sport, there are happy days, there are sad days, and we know we will face these two things during the year. But in November we want to be champions, so hopefully we can be."

Red Bull have had the fastest car in the last three years, and Vettel used that to win back-to-back world titles in 2010-11, but Alonso refused to say whether he felt the German or McLaren drivers Hamilton and Button would be his biggest challengers.

"The biggest challenge for us is to take care of ourselves," he said. "We were not good enough in 2011, so first of all we need to improve this. If we do that, then we need to see what is our competition and how quick we are.

"Both of them [McLaren and Red Bull] are extremely good. Mercedes can improve as well. There are super teams and we need to be good."

Ferrari's second driver, Felipe Massa, is under pressure after two years of being out-paced Alonso.

The Brazilian is not expected to be retained beyond this season, but he said he was confident he could take the fight to Alonso in 2012 and retain his seat.

"I want to win races," Massa said. "I want to be perfect throughout the season. By doing that, I will be in good shape for the team.

"I have plenty of motivation, plenty of drive. I am positive about myself and this is what I want.

"I am sure I can fight against Fernando, not just to have the same time but to make a better time than him - to be even faster."