Fernando Alonso put in an 'exceptional' lap today at his home track to earn a place on the second row of the grid for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix, the first European event of the F1 2010 season.

The Spaniard, who has been fourth in the overall times in practice on Friday too, was only eighth this morning in FP3, however, a banzai effort in Q3 saw him end the top-ten shoot-out only a tenth off McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in third.

Speaking after qualifying, the Ferrari man admitted that he never expected to be able to challenge the Red Bull's of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, who locked-out the front row for the third time this year.

"I am pleased with this result. We knew the Red Bulls would be untouchable, so to be fourth is more or less what we expected," Alonso said. "As usual, tomorrow's race will be long and we must try and get the most out of what we have to work with. Something unexpected can always happen, as was the case for me this morning when I got a puncture coming out of the garage for my first run.

"I don't think we lost any valuable time, concentrating on the development of the blown rear wing: here and in China, we had so many other new components that we have been able to gain a few tenths in performance terms, without which we would be much further back on the grid, because the others are also working very hard.

"We are moving in the right direction and we have to continue like this. Tomorrow, it will be very important to get a good start: recently they have not gone so well for me and so this would be just the right moment to get one!"

Felipe Massa meanwhile struggled in the sister Ferrari F10 and his best lap was a 1 minute 21.585 seconds. That left him down in ninth - more than half a second slower than his team-mate.

"In qualifying I had a lot of trouble finding the right grip level, especially in the second and third sectors, which contain the slowest corners on the track: I felt as though I was rally driving, always understeering," Massa moaned. "Already yesterday, I realised this would not be an easy weekend and so I was not surprised at what happened today. We worked on different set-ups for the car and chose the best one, but it was not enough: we have to work out why, but without panicking, but by calmly analysing the situation.

"Maybe I didn't put together the best possible lap, but even so I don't think I would have been in the fight for the top places. The Red Bulls are much quicker than everyone else here and we will have to do our best to try and get a good finishing position."

Ferrari's chief track engineer Chris Dyer was also pretty disappointed: "We cannot be happy to find ourselves almost a second off pole position, that's for sure," he added. "Both Felipe and Fernando have struggled all weekend, especially in terms of grip levels. On his last qualifying lap, Fernando produced an exceptional lap and getting the car at least onto the second row was down to his talent. Tomorrow, it will be vital to manage to get a good start, given that, on this track, overtaking is very difficult."


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