Former double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso was left ruing a mistake in qualifying for this weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – as he fears Renault's chances of opening the new campaign with a rostrum finish have taken something of a nose-dive.
Though the Spaniard had not looked particularly quick during the three practice sessions in the run-up to qualifying, he safely made it through Q1 and was confident of getting through to the Q3 shoot-out too – only for an error on his last lap to prove costly indeed and leave him down on the sixth row of the starting grid.
“We arrived here to fight for the podium,” the 21-time grand prix-winner reflected, “but this might not be the case tomorrow. We were very close to Q3 times – only two or three tenths of a second off – but I made a mistake as I tried to make up some time in the final corner.
“I'm disappointed as I thought I could be fifth or sixth on the grid. However, last year I started in twelfth and got up to fourth in the race, so I'm still confident that tomorrow, if we have an eventful race, I can get a good result.”
Renault's Albert Park misery was completed by a woeful showing from Nelsinho Piquet in the sister R29, with the Brazilian looking more like the driver who began last year than the one who ended it as he grappled around for grip and found himself just 17th at the close, eliminated in Q1 much like he was this time twelve months ago on his unconvincing grand prix debut.
“I knew it was going to be a bit tough today,” the 23-year-old acknowledged, “after a difficult weekend for us. At the start of qualifying the car seemed okay, but then I started to struggle. This track is not one I enjoy particularly. I was pushing a little too hard and made a mistake in the last sector.”
Looking back over the session, the Régie's
executive director of engineering Pat Symonds admitted that it had failed to live up to expectations – and conceded, moreover, that the grid slots do not allow for any risky or inventive strategies to be brought into play on race day.
“The track conditions were quite good today,” the Englishman remarked, “with reasonably high temperatures despite the fact that qualifying took place late in the day. That did not give us any problems.
“We are obviously disappointed, but the performance of all the cars is very close and our position in qualifying doesn't necessarily reflect where we will finish in the race. Our positions on the grid will certainly require us to use quite a conventional strategy, as will be shown tomorrow by the fuel loads that we choose.
“I think that we're not too far from the teams that we should be fighting, and we hope that our KERS system will bring us a genuine advantage during race conditions tomorrow.”