Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso professed himself 'pleased' to have qualified third on his debut for Ferrari in the 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir – and added that he was 'not surprised' to be pipped to the front row by team-mate Felipe Massa given how 'good he is round this track'.
Having set a searing pace in FP3, the final free practice session ahead of qualifying, Alonso headed into the three-part session widely-regarded as the driver to beat, and in Q1 he duly delivered, lapping quickest of anyone once again. In Q2 the Spaniard slipped down to second as eventual pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel began to unleash some of the inherent raw speed of Red Bull Racing's Renault-powered RB6, but still the Oviedo native was reckoned to be the most likely to annex the top spot when it really mattered, in the Q3 top ten shoot-out.
However, not only was Alonso's best effort beaten by Vettel, but it was also trumped – by almost four tenths of a second – by Massa, who triumphed back-to-back around the Bahrain International Circuit in 2007 and 2008, but who came close to losing his life and even closer to losing his sight when he was struck on the head at speed by a 1kg rear suspension spring at the Hungaroring last summer.
Being shown the way by his giant-killing team-mate – a man who has already claimed the high-profile scalps of the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen in seasons past – was presumably not part of the plan, but the 21-time grand prix-winner insisted afterwards that he was far from unhappy with his effort.
“Up until today, we did not have a clear reference as to how competitive we were,” Alonso pointed out. “With our cars on the first and second rows, we can be satisfied because it means our championship is getting off on a positive note. I am pleased with my qualifying debut for my new team. The F10 was strong in Q1 and Q2, but then Vettel managed to do better than us. On my last run I lost precious time in a couple of corners, losing a couple of tenths, which can happen when you are fighting for pole.
“I am not surprised to find Felipe ahead of me – he is my team-mate, and we all know how good he is round this track. We know we have a good car which we fine-tuned during the February tests; today we showed its potential, and now we have eight months of work to develop it.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed that following six years at Renault and a solitary unhappy campaign at McLaren-Mercedes, Alonso had integrated himself well at the Scuderia
, opining that 'it seems as though he has been with us for years rather than months' – and chief race engineer Chris Dyer corroborated that the Prancing Horse's new charge had wielded a positive influence on a squad that has got off to an infinitely better start than this time twelve months ago.
“I am happy to be able to say there's a whisker of disappointment after this result, given that I can hardly remember the last time we managed to get both cars into Q3!” the New Zealander joked, with the German Grand Prix at the Nürburging almost precisely eight months ago being the answer to his question. “Two cars on the two front rows is a good basis to start from, and tomorrow's race looks like being very interesting.
“We had some minor problems on the cars during the day, but the team did a good job of managing the situation as well as possible. During yesterday's long run testing, our cars seemed to be pretty consistent in terms of performance and we didn't see anyone who looked particularly stronger than us.”