F1 2010 World Championship leader Fernando Alonso has affirmed that his bid to add a third drivers' crown to his impressive career CV in this weekend's Abu Dhabi season finale has 'got off on the right foot' for himself and Ferrari – but as to whether he will be able to overhaul the usually dominant Red Bulls in qualifying on Saturday, the Spaniard seems less sure.
Alonso lapped sixth-quickest in the afternoon FP1 session around the Yas Marina Street Circuit in the UAE, before improving to third later on in the evening's FP2 running, sandwiched between his two Red Bull Racing title rivals, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Should the race end the same way, the Oviedo native would be left toasting his third drivers' trophy in what has inarguably not been the fastest car of the campaign – but he is keeping his feet resolutely on the ground.
“This weekend has got off on the right foot for us, as we gathered a lot of data which is now being evaluated by our engineers,” reported the 29-year-old at the end of what was a trouble-free day. “The first thing to do on a Friday is to check that everything is alright and that the handling of the car corresponds to what we have seen in the simulations; after that, you have to work on improving performance by changing set-up and aerodynamic downforce levels, and that is exactly what we did during these three hours.
“We are reasonably pleased with the car's level of competitiveness and the fact that it feels easy to drive, but we know there is still more potential that can be extracted to go even quicker. I expect tomorrow's qualifying to be very tight – let's hope we can get closer to the Red Bulls than we have been in the past. There is no point in speculating over the possible scenarios that could unfold in the race; we have to concentrate on ourselves and on how to make the car go faster.”
Team-mate Felipe Massa – who Alonso will doubtless be hoping can get in amongst Vettel and Webber and stymy their progress on race day – was conversely hindered by a minor fuel injection system issue that curtailed the Brazilian's time in the cockpit, leaving him a distant eleventh in FP1 and a more competitive sixth in FP2. Despite having never competed in Abu Dhabi before due to his Hungaroring accident last year ruling him out of the 2009 edition, the Paulista professed himself in positive spirits.
“Overall, it was a good debut for me at this track,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner underlined. “My times came down progressively, both because of the changing track conditions and also as, lap-after-lap, I managed to learn where I could push harder. It was a shame I had a little problem towards the end of the second session which prevented me from doing my last series of laps with a heavy fuel load.
“I hope to be able to continue to make progress so as to be in the fight for the top places. The car seems to handle well – now we must analyse the data we have gathered to try and make the right choices in terms of set-up and aerodynamic configuration. I am sure that there is room to improve our performance level.”
The drivers' guarded optimism at the close of Friday proceedings was shared by Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and the Scuderia's
chief track engineer Chris Dyer, both of whom well recognise just what will be required if Alonso is to successfully lift the laurels on Sunday.
“As always, you have to take Friday's results with a grain of salt because there are too many variables at play to be able to draw a really precise conclusion,” stressed Domenicali. “We are tackling this weekend with the same sort of approach that we have adopted throughout the whole season – we are well aware of our target and we will do our utmost to reach it, without spending too much time doing the sums.