Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso expressed his confidence that Renault can fight for podium finishes over the remainder of the 2009 campaign, after improvements to the hitherto underperforming R29 unleashed 'exceptional pace' in the latter stages of the German Grand Prix at the N?rburgring at the weekend.

Having been caught out by the tricky conditions in qualifying as the famously mercurial Eifel Mountains weather did its worst, Alonso began the race only twelfth - around a circuit where he has twice in the past mounted the top step of the rostrum. From there, the Spaniard endured a tardy getaway when the starting lights went out and was consequently consigned to spending the opening two-thirds of the grand prix bogged in down traffic, but once in clear air in the third and final stint his speed was quite simply devastating.

Regularly the quickest man on the track - proving that his practice and early qualifying form had been no flash in the pan - the 21-time grand prix-winner inexorably hunted down the Brawn GP pairing of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello ahead of him in the closing laps.

Though unable to make any inroads and forced to settle for seventh place at the chequered flag, fastest lap, he acknowledged - more than six tenths of a second out of reach of that of race-winner Mark Webber - was encouraging indeed.

"It's definitely a step forward," the 27-year-old told BBC Sport of Renault's new front wing. "The improvement is down to the new parts - we have clearly improved the car. Sometimes you make some changes to the car and you cannot really feel them and the position remains more-or-less the same, but it seems this weekend the parts we used really work and finally we have made a step forward.

"It was a difficult race, because my start was very poor and we lost quite a few positions before the first corner. After that, the race was tough and we were stuck in traffic, [but] the most important thing I take from the weekend is that we are competitive.

"We had the potential to be on the podium; we were quicker than Ferrari all weekend, and [Felipe] Massa was third. I got fastest lap - that's very positive. I'm quite happy with the race. There's a little bit of frustration because two points is not enough for us, but I am quite optimistic and confident for the coming races.

"We need to concentrate on Saturday, to be in the top five, top six in qualifying, and then after that I think the race pace is good enough to keep those positions. If we are qualifying tenth, we are out-of-position in the race because we are quicker than the cars in front of us but we have traffic. Hopefully in Budapest we can improve Saturday."

Team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, by contrast, went in the opposite direction, eventually winding up a low-key and frustrated 13th despite having succeeded in out-qualifying Alonso for the first time the previous day in tenth. A similarly poor start hampered the under-fire young Brazilian's race from the off, and a long opening stint failed to gain him any significant ground in what some muse may have been his final outing for the R?gie.

"It wasn't an easy race for me and I'm disappointed not to get a better result," the 23-year-old acknowledged. "I lost ground at the start, as I had some problems warming up the tyres. After that I got held up in traffic, which made it very difficult to make any progress in the second half of the race. I pushed really hard all afternoon, but I just couldn't match the pace of Fernando who had the new updates on his car."

Following a dispiriting start to the campaign that has yielded a mere 13 points and no finish better than fifth place - worse even than at the same stage last year - the performance did at least give Renault cause for cheer and reasons for optimism for the remaining eight races, when the Enstone-based outfit will be bidding to replicate its 2008 renaissance and stage a late-season fight back.

"Although we have come away with just two points, it has been a positive weekend for the team," underlined managing director Flavio Briatore. "Fernando had great pace, setting the fastest lap of the race and making good progress through the field. It's just a shame that we were penalised by our qualifying position, where we lost out in the difficult weather conditions. We now need to build on this performance and continue making progress as we enter the second part of the season, just as we did last year."

"The car looked a lot more competitive this weekend," echoed executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. "Fernando's problem in qualifying coupled with the team's problem with the start made it a difficult race, but when he was out of the traffic he was able to show the exceptional pace of the car with the developments that have been made to it.

"With Nelson, we decided to go for a long first stint and, as the temperature came up on the grid, we decided to start on prime tyres. Again, he had a problem with the start and the warm-up of the tyres, which left him with too much to do to be able to capitalise on his grid position."

"Overall, we have to be disappointed with the weekend," reflected head of engine operations Remi Taffin. "Despite bringing lots of developments here, we haven't made the most of them. The car has clearly improved, but we didn't have a good qualifying session or a good start and it was only in the second half of the race that we could show the true potential of the car. Although we are disappointed with the result, we can take a lot of positives from the performance of the car for the rest of the season."


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