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 Nürburgring 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 Régie