Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso is confident that he had the pace to finish up on the podium in the German Grand Prix last weekend but for his qualifying woes – and he is hoping to make amends for the disappointment of missing out at the Nürburgring with his first rostrum finish of the 2009 campaign next weekend in Hungary, scene of his breakthrough grand prix victory six years ago.
A spin in the treacherous conditions of Q2 consigned the Renault star to just twelfth spot on the starting grid around the Eifel Mountains circuit, and traffic throughout the first half of the race would mask the updated R29's true potential. It was only when in clear air later on that Alonso was truly able to demonstrate its speed...
“We have definitely improved,” underlined the Spaniard, “and the latest upgrades made us much more competitive. It's just a shame that I lost out in the wet qualifying, because starting down in twelfth meant I was out-of-position and couldn't show the true pace of the car in the first half of the race.
“When I did have some clean air, the car was really quick and I set the fastest time for eleven laps of the race – so I think we had the potential to be on the podium. It's always easy to say what might have been, but to come away with just two points was a bit disappointing.”
Disappointing on the one hand undeniably, but also immensely encouraging on the other, for after seemingly treading water for the first half of the season – with Alonso invariably to be found around the lower reaches of the top ten with no visible signs of any great progress – the 21-time grand prix-winner now knows he has a genuinely competitive car at his disposal once again, and he is desperate to show it off.
Only twice has the man from Oviedo finished up on the rostrum in seven appearances at the Hungaroring – and he would clearly dearly love to add to that tally this time around with an early 28th birthday present.
“The memories of my win in 2003 are very special,” he reminisced, “as it was also Renault's first victory since returning to Formula 1 and it gave the whole team a lot of motivation and self-belief. I always enjoy visiting Budapest as it's a beautiful city, the people are friendly and there is usually a relaxed atmosphere in the paddock as everybody is looking forward to their summer holidays.
“It's one of the slowest tracks of the season and you are almost constantly in a corner, so the track is quite demanding mentally and physically, especially with the high temperatures. With so many low-speed corners you need a stable front end, because if you understeer wide it will cost you a lot of time. It's important to have good traction and mechanical grip and to get on the throttle early to get a clean exit from the slow corners.
“The circuit is quite intense for the drivers, as there are so many corners in a short lap. The high levels of downforce mean we can be quite aggressive with the car, and the physical loads are high in the quicker corners. The section of track from turns eight to eleven is all about accuracy and anticipating the next corner. You need to find a good rhythm through the corners and have confidence in a stable car balance to steer a smooth, quick course through this sequence.
“The track is always quite green and dusty at the start of the weekend, but it improves with every session and picks up a lot of grip as more rubber goes down. Overtaking is really difficult; the first corner at the end of the main straight is the biggest braking zone and the only real opportunity on the circuit, so it's important that we maximise our performance in qualifying so we can start the race well inside the top ten.”