Spanish supporters left Valencia's all-new Juan Carlos I Marina circuit shrouded in disappointment at the end of qualifying for this weekend's European Grand Prix, after home hero Fernando Alonso failed to make it into the top ten on the grid for only the second time this season.
The last time the Renault ace missed the Q3 cut was in the 2008 curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne back in March, and few would have expected him to fall at the same hurdle on home turf, particularly having set the second-quickest time in Friday practice and the fourth-fastest lap in the initial phase of qualifying.
He ultimately fell short, however, by an agonising two hundredths of a second, after he ran wide on his crucial final effort. To compound the Régie's
misery, rookie team-mate Nelsinho Piquet also dropped out in Q2, and will line up 15th on the starting grid on Sunday, three spots and three tenths of a second behind Alonso, with the Brazilian admitting to not having produced his best form.
“I am understandably disappointed with the qualifying session,” former double F1 World Champion Alonso mused, “because I had other hopes for today. The race tomorrow will therefore be more difficult but, as we are on a street course, anything is possible.
“We must continue working hard this evening to try and work out the best strategy that will allow us to be ready for all eventualities tomorrow, such as a safety car period, which seems quite likely.”
“I am disappointed with my qualifying,” concurred Piquet, “and I could probably have set a better time this afternoon. I don't think our result shows our true pace, because Fernando also failed to reach Q3 when we both had the potential. I will now work with my engineers and prepare for an aggressive race to move up through the field tomorrow.”
With Renault's tussle over fourth spot in the constructors' title chase with Toyota, Red Bull Racing and Williams poised on a knife-edge and seven races of the campaign remaining, the Enstone-based concern's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds acknowledged that the outcome had been a frustrating one – even if he sought to underline that neither driver is out of the hunt just yet.
“Considering all the preparation involved for this new circuit, it's very disappointing not to have any of our cars in the final part of qualifying,” the Englishman reflected. “I am sure we had the potential to do so, but potential is not an ultimate result.
“However, I'm sure it will be an interesting race tomorrow. In the event here several weeks ago we saw that the safety car can play an important role, and we will think hard about our strategy to try to make the most of our situation.”
“Our position at the end of qualifying is disappointing,” agreed Renault's head of engine track operations Denis Chevrier, “especially as we thought we had done some good work yesterday and seen some encouraging results. All is not lost, though, and we will try and develop a strong strategy that will allow us to make the most of our grid positions.”