Even before the decision was announced about Lewis Hamilton's exclusion from the results of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix which puts Fernando Alonso onto the front row of the grid in Barcelona for tomorrow's race, the Ferrari driver was amazed with how far up the grid he'd finished.

"This third place is not what we had expected," he said earlier in the day. "We were counting on making a step forward that would allow us to get into Q3 with less difficulty than in the first races of the season and we managed it.

"We certainly did not think we could be so high up the grid," he added. "It's a good basis to start from for this weekend, but the points come tomorrow. We will try and get a good start, especially as some of my main opponents in the title fight start behind us and we must try and make the most of that."

"Fernando did a fantastic job from the first to the final lap of the session, constantly improving and, once again, getting all the potential out of the car," said a delighted Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal.

With the first European Grand Prix of the season viewed as being a critical test of Ferrari's first major batch of upgrades to the F2012 car after four long-distance flyaway events, Alonso was cautious on exactly what today's success in qualifying meant for the Maranello squad at the Circuit de Catalunya.

"I don't know if this position is a true reflection of our car's performance," he insisted. "It's definitely not normal for a Red Bull and a McLaren to be eliminated in Q2 and that the other Red Bull gets into Q3 with no sets of new Soft tyre available.

"But what is certain is that the new parts we have brought here have resulted in us taking a step in the right direction," he conceded. "Sure, it's not yet enough to fight for the very top places."

"We brought various updates here," explained technical director Pat Fry. "Especially aerodynamic ones: some worked well, meeting our expectations, others less so: looking at this afternoon's result we can say we have made a step forward."

"We have made a step forward, this is a fact," agreed Domenicali.

Unfortunately Alonso's team mate Felipe Massa wasn't get the same sort of qualifying boost from the new upgrades. He was once again eliminated at the end of Q2 when he failed to get into the top ten, with traffic the main problem.

"It is vital to manage to have everything fall into place on a clean lap and I never got that chance," he lamented. "On my second run in Q2, I came across at least seven or eight cars that were preparing their tyres for their timed lap and the time I lost definitely cost me dear.

"It's a real shame to start seventeenth in a race in which our car has shown it has made a step forward in terms of performance, as could be seen from Fernando's result," he continued. "The new aerodynamic parts which we introduced on the F2012 seem to have worked well. We have a bit more aerodynamic downforce and a bit less drag, but we are well aware that there is still a lot to do."

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