Fernando Alonso says that is delighted to be heading to his home race knowing that his car is capable of challenging for victory – but insists that that does not mean that he will necessarily be on the top step of the podium.
The Spaniard failed to finish in Malaysia, and struggled to eighth place after a DRS problem in Bahrain, stunting his challenge to Sebastian Vettel over the opening four rounds, but is excited by the prospect of being able to run at the front, on merit, in front of his adoring fans at the Circuit de Catalunya.
“Last year, we were 1-1.5 seconds behind the top cars; this year we have finished two races without problems,” he reflected, “We finished second in Australia and we won in China, so it's a very different feeling - and a very different package that we have this year, which brings us optimism and some confidence that we can have a good championship.
“We need to deliver, we need to do some consistent results now and gain some consistent points for the next [few] Sundays, but we are more optimistic now that we have some points behind us. Maybe [it's the] first time that we arrive with a competitive car, but that doesn't mean that you will fight for top places, even if you do everything right and if you don't put together a good weekend.
“It's also true that we need to check how the car responds with some new parts that we've brought here. It's the same with the other teams. Our competitors make the biggest step that they do and, after that, we'll see. As I said, in the first four races, we felt competitive, we felt that we were able to fight for the top places if the race was without problems and we will try to have a clean race here with no problems. If that will be enough to put us in contention for victory, it will be nice. If it's not possible, we will try to be as high as possible, but it's a weekend that we approach with a positive mentality and maybe not as a defensive a mentality as in my first three years with Ferrari.”
Alonso's optimism comes despite trailing Vettel by 30 points after four races, and the Spaniard is quick to point out that the German came from further back – with fewer races - to claim last year's title.
“The championship is long and there are many, many examples [of comebacks],” he noted, “I think the most recent was Sebastian's recovery last year. He was 43 points behind us after the summer break and was leading at Austin so, in five or six races, you can recover 45-50 points if you get some consistent results. It was the same with us in 2006, when I was 33 points in front of Michael, which means 75 or 80 points with the current points system, and he was leading the championship in Suzuka with two races to the end. Until we are 75 or 80 points behind, we should be optimistic.”
Despite admitting that winning at home brings a special emotion, Alonso insisted that Ferrari would not be putting any extra store in attempting to qualify on the front row, even though 20 of the 22 grands prix staged at the Circuit de Catalunya have been won from there, including last year's when Williams' Pastor Maldonado beat Alonso to the line.
“I think, this year, we have seen how important the races are, [and] race pace,” he pointed out, “The tyres are a key factor, more than previously. Obviously, it's good to start at the front and, if you start on the first row, you know that your chances are high - you can really touch the podium if you start on the first row.
“But I think we need to have a very, very normal weekend, like we did in the first four races, and try to find the right balance between qualifying and the race. Maybe the first really important qualifying will arrive in two weeks' time in Monaco, when we know that qualifying is extremely important. I think, here, it is still more or less a normal circuit [so] you need to find a compromise.”