Short of revealing that he and Ferrari are in-shape to do battle for victory once more this weekend, Fernando Alonso has given his adoring partisan fans about the biggest reason for cheer that they could have hoped for on the eve of the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona – by asserting that the Scuderia
has 'made a step forward' and should be capable of fighting for the podium on Sunday.
The newly re-signed Alonso was speaking after lapping fifth-quickest in opening practice around the Circuit de Catalunya today (Friday), albeit more than a second shy of the leading pace. In company with team-mate Felipe Massa, the double F1 World Champion completed a busy day of running during which a whole raft of new parts for the F150° Italia were put through their paces, shared between the two drivers. Further focus was apportioned to set-up work and analysing the two tyre compounds provided by Pirelli.
“We tried a lot of new things today, and now we must extrapolate the information from all this work and select the best parts to put on the car for tomorrow,” reported home hero Alonso. “My first impression is favourable – I think we have made a step forward and I think the chances of fighting for a podium finish are even more likely here than they were in Turkey. We still have to work on the set-up; today, we had too many things to test and we did not have time to make too many changes.
“It is always difficult to judge the gaps in free practice, because there are always differences between one car and the next. I am certainly not surprised that the Red Bulls are still ahead of everyone; at the moment, they are the fastest and tracks like this one or Budapest are particularly well-suited to their characteristics. Having said that, while it's true it might be difficult to beat them in qualifying, maybe in the race we can get closer, also to the McLarens and put them under pressure.
“Pirelli has brought a new type of hard tyre, and it's hard to imagine we can get through Q1 without having to resort to using the softs. One thing we had already seen in winter testing [in Barcelona] and which has been confirmed today is that degradation is pretty significant, so there is cause to expect a race like the one in Istanbul in terms of the number of pit-stops.”
Prior to the weekend, Alonso had conceded that, unsurprisingly, the Spanish Grand Prix 'has a special feel about it for me' with flag-filled grandstands supporting him and 'the warmth one gets from the fans right from the very first free practice sessions'. The only occasion on which the 29-year-old has triumphed there, however, was back in 2006 with Renault F1 – what he describes as 'one of the best moments of my career' – and he admits 'it would be a dream come true to do it again with Ferrari sooner or later'.
Predicting more overtaking around the Circuit de Catalunya in F1 2011 than in previous campaigns due to differences in tyre performance, he underlined the sheer willpower inside the corridors of Maranello to rebound from what has undeniably been a disappointing start to the campaign with but a sole rostrum finish to-date.
“On paper, we do not yet have the potential to be in a straight fight for the win, with one team clearly the favourite in this regard,” confessed the 26-time grand prix-winner. “However, we know things can change quickly in our sport and, in Turkey, finally we managed to bring home a podium finish. The road is still long, but I believe we have at least started down it going in the right direction.
“The team has worked so hard in Maranello on developing the F150° Italia and in order to be as well-prepared as possible for these two back-to-back races, given that next week we will be back on-track in Monaco. During the days I spent in the factory, I could feel that everyone there really wants to fight back – the feeling is so strong you can almost touch it.