Ferrari managed to get Fernando Alonso onto the third row of the grid, and with Felipe Massa initially placed alongside him after lapping just one thousandths of a second behind his team mate it looked as though the team had managed a decent day in qualifying for the 2013 F1 Spanish Grand Prix.

Unfortunately Massa was then hit by a three-place grid penalty for Sunday's place which splits him up from Alonso and demotes him to ninth place on the Catalunya grid.

"It was not my intention to get in his way and in all honesty, I can't recall having affected his qualifying," insisted Massa after the penalty was handed down. "When I saw him in the mirrors, I thought I'd get through the corner before letting him by, which was the only course of action at such a narrow point. On top of that, he was on worn tyres at the time and I don't think he was doing a quick lap."

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Also distracting the team from the work at hand was a medical emergency for technical director Pat Fry, who was taken to hospital ahead of qualifying. Initially reported as a case of kidney stones, it was subsequently revealed that he was actually suffering from appendicitis and that he would need an immediate operation at a local hospital in Barcelona, Spain.

"I want to wish the best of luck to Pat Fry, our technical director, who will be undergoing an appendectomy this afternoon," said Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. "We wish him all the best for a rapid recovery."

Domenicali added that the problem had arisen in time to allow the team to re-organise to cover Fry's absence from the pit wall, and that it should not affect their race day efforts. Fry will not be back in action at Catalunya, but should be back with the team in time for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Meanwhile, Domenicali was turning his attention to what the team can achieve with Alonso's starting position for Sunday's race.

"We knew we couldn't be in the hunt for the very front," he said. "We definitely cannot be satisfied with the result, but the third row is still a good starting point on which to build in tomorrow's race."

"We are reasonably sure we can count on the potential we have seen so far and as usual, the start will be very important to try and make up a few places," he added. "Tyre degradation will still be a key factor and so we must stay focused and make the most of any opportunity.

"Fifth place is more or less what we were expecting," agreed Fernando Alonso himself. "The team and I are optimistic for tomorrow as our race pace is good and usually we manage to go better on Sunday. We start from the clean side and hope that will allow us to get off the line well, because what we need here is to make up some places at the start."

Alonso said that the team had not been surprised by the pace of the Mercedes duo who locked out the front row.

"We are not too scared of Mercedes, who usually have higher tyre degradation," he said. "We will also have to defend against Raikkonen: so far he has gone very well in the races and the Lotus doesn't seem to suffer too much on the tyre front."

"I'm not surprised at the pace of the Mercedes," agreed Massa. "They were already strong here in winter testing and their car is always very competitive in qualifying.

"This [qualifying] result shows once again that, on Saturdays, our rivals prefer to take a more conservative approach in the morning before revealing their true potential in the afternoon," he continued. "Now we must concentrate on tomorrow's race, because it will be a long one and anything can happen.

"All the same, I feel very confident because our car seems competitive," Massa added.