Astonishingly for a man a scant three points shy of the lead in the F1 2010 World Championship, the runner-up spot in Barcelona at the weekend marked only Fernando Alonso's second podium finish of the campaign thus far – and whilst he insists Ferrari has a 'very aggressive' development plan for the upcoming races, the Spaniard acknowledges that his record of rostrum finishes this year needs to improve.
Having triumphed in the Bahrain curtain-raiser just under two months ago, Alonso got caught up in a first corner incident in Australia that left him fourth at the chequered flag, encountered race-long downshifting issues and a late engine failure in Malaysia and subsequently paid the price for a jump-start with a penalty in China that limited him to just fourth again.
The fans' favourite was on-course to finish off the podium once more in front of his adoring partisan supporters around the Circuit de Catalunya in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix – only for late brake problems for Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel and a penultimate lap puncture and tyre blowout for ex McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to gift Alonso P2.
“I feel extremely happy,” he reflected. “When you gain two positions in the last part of the race – and unexpected positions as well – it feels fantastic. It tastes better than even an overtaking manoeuvre, I think. With Sebastian, I saw some problems with his car on the lap that he pitted; I was expecting him to come back very quickly on the track in the last part with the soft tyres, but the team informed me he still had some problems and he was running slow, so third place was more-or-less in the pocket. Then three or four laps before the end when I saw the problem with the McLaren it was another position just for free, so it was very welcome.
“In terms of results [it was a] fantastic weekend for us, but overall it was so-so. Fourth in qualifying was a good performance I think, and second in the race is fantastic for the team – but I think we saw this weekend that we need to improve some areas of the car to be close to Red Bull, especially in qualifying. I think we learned some things this weekend, and we are working to maximise our potential. Sometimes we know we will be first, sometimes fifth, but as long as we give 100 per cent every weekend we are happy, so we need to be satisfied with this race.”
Admitting that he had already given up his 'optimistic' chase of Vettel for P3 prior to the German's difficulties – “I did maximum attack for ten or 15 laps just to close the gap to Sebastian, but I was catching him by half-a-second every 20 laps, which was not enough to get to him so I just controlled it, backed off a bit on the revs and brought the car home,” he explained – Alonso went on to reveal why he remains confident indeed for the remainder of the season.
“For the championship, I'm happy with this position,” the 28-year-old conceded, “but we need four or five podiums in a row. With one podium and then another three races with mistakes there is not enough to win the championship, but I think we understand, we know the problems, we know the mistakes we made at the beginning of the championship and we arrived in Barcelona with a very good approach. It was a super Ferrari team this weekend with no mistakes at all, preparing in a good way and at the maximum of our potential.
“We need to do our maximum, and this weekend all the Ferrari team did the maximum so we are extremely happy with our job and thanks to all the mechanics, the engineers and the guys in the factory for bringing here a lot of modifications to the car. There is a very aggressive plan of developing the car, with some good gains and good improvements to come in the next races, so we are very optimistic about that.
“The championship is long. There will be some circuits where we will be closer to Red Bull and some circuits like this weekend where we know it's going to be more difficult but overall, for the 19 races, I think we have a car and package that can fight for the world championship, which is the main goal. We know the areas that will give aerodynamic improvements. Basically, I think, we saw in Barcelona how important the aerodynamics of the car are and the maximum downforce, and we were struggling a little bit more than we wanted.
“It's a very early part of the championship. For sure, you need consistency, you need good results all through the year, but we've had two engine problems, one gearbox problem, one jumped start and some chaotic races and we are only three points behind the leader, so we are happy.”