Fernando Alonso was left enthusing about 'a great race' in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona this weekend – one in which the home hero stole fifth place away from Felipe Massa on the very last lap, when he admitted to not having expected to finish inside the points at all.
The former double Formula 1 World Champion lined up in eighth place on the grid around the Circuit de Catalunya, but he knew before the start that he was carrying the lightest fuel load of any driver in the top ten – and far from making progress up the order, anticipated sliding down it as other drivers came through.
However, a strong start elevated the Oviedo-born ace to sixth position by the first corner – allowing him to narrowly dodge all of the carnage unfolding behind – and he would maintain a strong pace throughout, duelling wheel-to-wheel with Mark Webber into turn one following the early safety car period and sweeping around the outside of Massa's ailing Ferrari only a matter of corners from the chequered flag, to the evident delight of his many fans thronging the circuit.
“It was a great race for us,” the 27-year-old underlined. “We were not too optimistic before the start as our simulations suggested we would finish in ninth or tenth place, but I had a good start and I was up to sixth after the first corner. The car worked really well during the race and then I was able to overtake Massa on the final lap. It was also an interesting race for the fans.”
“I was lucky not to get caught in the accident at the start of the race,” added under-fire young team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, a distant twelfth at the close. “The performance of the car was disappointing and the balance wasn't good. I don't have a fully updated car yet, so I hope that we can make some improvements for the next race.”
Though still not on the ultimate pace, Renault's form under the Catalan sun nonetheless seemed to mark a step forward for the Régie
after a tough start to proceedings in 2009. Now, all involved well recognise, the goal has to be to keep that progress coming.
“Today's result and our pace in the race showed the potential and the improvements made to the car,” commented managing director Flavio Briatore, “as Fernando's times were very close to those of the front-runners. Now we must work hard and keep improving in order to secure strong points for both cars in the races to come.”
“Barcelona is not renowned for producing exciting racing,” added the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, “but that certainly wasn't true today. It was a fight all the way through to the end and a great result from Fernando.
“Nelson was extremely lucky not to have been taken out in the first corner accident, which seemed to happen all around him. From then on the car didn't have the pace we expected, and we feel that there is probably unseen damage to it.”
“Overall it was a weekend that brought us more than we expected,” summarised the French concern's head of engine operations, Remi Taffin. “We came here with hopes of taking a step forward, but unfortunately everybody brought lots of developments and the order of the teams remained pretty much the same.
“Thanks to the work that we have done throughout the weekend, though, we've come away with a great result. Fernando was pushing flat-out for the whole race and fifth place is a nice reward. This result puts us in a good frame of mind for the upcoming races, but we will continue working hard.”