x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fernando Alonso upbeat on Ferrari form

The Spaniard is fourth on the grid at today's European Grand Prix in Valencia with the aim of beating McLaren today.

Fernando Alonso pushes his Ferrari hard during yesterday’s qualifying session. The Spaniard was only fourth quickest, with teammate Felipe Massa one place behind, and he believes the team cannot match frontrunners Red Bull for pace at present.
Fernando Alonso pushes his Ferrari hard during yesterday’s qualifying session. The Spaniard was only fourth quickest, with teammate Felipe Massa one place behind, and he believes the team cannot match frontrunners Red Bull for pace at present.

VALENCIA // Having topped the time sheets in Friday practice and led yesterday's qualifying for an extended period, Ferrari might have been downbeat after securing only fourth and fifth place on the grid ahead of today's European Grand Prix.

Yet Fernando Alonso, marginally quicker than his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa but nearly a half-second back of the pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel at the Valencia Street Circuit, expressed contentment with his team's performance.

"I don't think this was a disappointing qualifying," said the Spaniard, racing in front of his compatriots for the second time in five weeks after finishing a distant fifth in Barcelona last month.

"Even if there were those outside the team who built up expectations, within it we were well aware of the situation."

The McLaren-Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished third and sixth and Alonso said it was the England-based team rather than constructors champions Red Bull Racing that the Italian manufacturers have been focusing on.

"This is our maximum position at the moment as Red Bull are out of reach," Alonso said.

"The aim was to fight with the McLarens and we did just that. Maybe we had hoped to be ahead of both, but instead we find ourselves splitting the two drivers. I feel happy; It's been the best qualifying of the year apart from Canada."

Alonso said a step on the podium is the goal for today's eighth grand prix of the season. He is primed to capitalise on his position if Hamilton, his former teammate who has been criticised of late for his combative driving, causes an accident at Turn One.

"We have one McLaren in front and one behind so we're about the same," Alonso said. "Hopefully, we can do something and I think a podium is the realistic target.

"In qualifying we see the real pace of all the cars and the Red Bull is the clear favourite, so we'll look at third.

"We will need to overtake just one car for that. I'm sure Lewis will be aggressive on the first corner and if there are any accidents, I will be ready."

Massa, who posted the fastest lap in the first qualifying session before being usurped by Vettel's record-breaking flying lap, said although the session "wasn't easy, fourth and fifth is definitely not a bad result".

"Maybe the others, especially McLaren, managed to find a little something extra between practice and qualifying, while Red Bull continues to be very strong, as was predictable," the Brazilian said. "We have become more competitive over the past three races, though, and our aim is to keep going down this path."

While Hamilton is firmly in Alonso's sights, McLaren's 26-year-old Englishman insists he is only looking ahead and appeared unconcerned by the figure in his mirror.

"I'm excited to be in the fight: we can win from this position," Hamilton said.

"Of course, we'll need a bit of luck with the strategy and the pit-stops, but our guys are on great form. You've got to be fortunate and maximise absolutely everything to get ahead of the Red Bulls - and, hopefully, that can happen."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae