Fernando Alonso has described his front row starting position for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai as 'a great motivation' for Renault – although his revelation that he is aiming to 'hopefully score some points' rather than envisaging a podium or even better perhaps suggests that the result is unlikely to be replicated on race day.
The Spaniard stunned paddock observers by vaulting out of practically nowhere to split the two Red Bull Racing machines of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in the dying moments of the Q3 top ten shoot-out, barely two tenths of a second shy of pole position.
Even more impressively still, he did so having covered only a handful of laps in FP3, in which the 27-year-old was a lowly 19th-quickest of the 20 drivers after encountering bodywork burning issues when Renault became the first of the 'conventional' diffuser teams to trial a 'double-decker' version – reckoned to be worth as much as half a second in terms of lap time.
“The car was quick this morning in FP3,” reported the former double Formula 1 World Champion, “but we only had three laps to test the new parts we'd fitted to the car. This afternoon achieving the front row of the grid is a great motivation for the team.
“It is unbelievable, and the first time that I've seen such an incredible effort. The team has been working 24 hours a day for the past few weeks to produce these parts – and today it was time to deliver. A big thanks to Enstone and to the engineers and mechanics here who didn't sleep much last night to get the car ready.
“Also, three Renault engines are in the top three so a big thanks to the engine team in Viry. We can be happy with today's result, and we're looking forward to the race tomorrow and hopefully scoring some points.”
There was considerably less joy, however, in the other side of the Renault garage, with Nelsinho Piquet – for the third race in succession in 2009 – dropping out of contention at the Q1 hurdle, almost half a second adrift of Alonso's pace. What's more, that was despite having lapped an encouraging fifth-quickest in the morning practice session, as the young Brazilian comes under increasing pressure to justify his position at the French outfit.
“Obviously I didn't have the new parts that Fernando had,” mused the 23-year-old, who will begin the grand prix from 16th following Timo Glock's penalty, “but it's still disappointing not to make it into Q2 as the car was working well this morning and we had made some improvements overnight. I know it will be a tough race tomorrow, but hopefully we can make the strategy work so that I can move forward.”
“Fernando's front row position is a tribute to the hard work from everyone back at the factory to get the new diffuser on the car following the result of our appeal earlier in the week,” concluded the Régie's
executive director of engineering Pat Symonds.
“It's working as expected although we had some problems on the bodywork this morning as it burnt slightly, but once again the technicians here did a great job to get it fixed. Now we must get the same equipment for Nelson and give him the chance to move up the grid.”