F1 2010 World Championship leader Fernando Alonso has conceded that none of the drivers in the field were 'as clever' as Williams' inspired pole-sitter Nico Hülkenberg at Interlagos – but insists that fifth place on the starting grid behind all three of his closest title rivals 'is not the end of the world'.
Having generally been 'best-of-the-rest' behind pace-setting Red Bull duo Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in Q1 and Q2 in São Paulo – and at times even ahead of them – Alonso had high hopes for the critical top ten shoot-out, but with treacherous track conditions and a change to slick tyres making the situation even more of a lottery than it had been before, the Spaniard found himself outpaced by Webber, Vettel and McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, and outwitted by Hülkenberg.
Still, he muses, in the circumstances and with memories of the qualifying session for the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix and its outcome for that year's title protagonists still very vivid, it could have been far worse.
“Fifth place is not the end of the world,” the double F1 World Champion urged. “Many times this year, the two Red Bulls have been out in front and Hamilton's McLaren has been in the fight with us for third place. Today, the surprise came from Hülkenberg, the only one to do a clean lap in Q3 – everyone else, myself included, was not as clever.
“The dry line was really narrow, and you only needed to get the tyres ten centimetres outside it and you lost a lot of time. There's a lot to lose in these conditions and little to gain – it would have just needed one wrong choice to already be out of it before the final part of qualifying.
“Tomorrow in the race, we will have to try and make the most of our strong points, especially our race pace. If we can do a good job of managing the tyres, maybe towards the end we can have the edge. The start will also be important – we will try and make up some places, while keeping an eye on what our rivals are doing, because it will be a crucial moment for them, too.
“From a strategic point-of-view, clearly the presence of Hülkenberg on pole introduces an unexpected variation. The main aim this weekend is to increase my lead over Webber to arrive in Abu Dhabi in as calm a frame of mind as possible. If that's not possible, then it will be a case of damage limitation.”
Still, Alonso remains the only one of the crown-chasing quintet – or quartet, if Jenson Button is now to be discounted from the equation – able to wrap the laurels up in Brazil, and Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali reflected that with Sunday another, and likely far drier day, the whole scenario could yet be 'turned on its head' once more.
“We knew that with the forecast weather conditions for today, this would be an especially complicated qualifying session and that was indeed the case,” remarked the Italian. “A shame, as this result does not reflect our aspirations or our potential, but putting this disappointment to one side, we have to keep in mind that the points are given out on Sunday, which is something we have said after a good qualifying and which bears repeating today. Our closest rivals are there ahead of us, and we will stick to them.
“We will have to try and run a judicious race and pick up as many points as possible, banking on a race pace which, from what we saw yesterday, is competitive with the best. So many times this year, the outcome of qualifying has been turned on its head in the race, which is often played out to a different tune. We have to concentrate – reliability, strategy, the work in the garage and on-track will, as always, hold the key.
“Finally, I want to congratulate Nico Hülkenberg – a youngster who has just taken the first pole of his F1 career – and his Williams team.”