In taking the chequered flag a strong fourth in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps at the weekend, Fernando Alonso claims Renault has proved itself capable of being Formula 1's third force ahead of BMW-Sauber - as the R?gie gained important ground on Toyota in the constructors' championship battle.

After qualifying sixth, the former double world champion ran in a competitive fourth place from the off, at times showing himself to be the quickest man on the circuit despite the engine in the back of his R28 proving to be a little breathless in comparison to those of Ferrari and Mercedes along Spa's long straights.

Like eventual podium finisher Nick Heidfeld, Alonso then took the gamble of pitting two laps from home to bolt on wet weather tyres as the conditions worsened. It was a risk that would pay off, as having dropped back down to eighth position, he stormed back through the order again and even grabbed two places exiting the Bus-Stop chicane for the final time to cross the finish line fourth, a scant tenth of a second ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel.

"We finished fourth after a difficult race with plenty of incidents," the 27-year-old affirmed afterwards. "It's a good result for the team, especially for our position in the championship because our objective was to score some important points. We missed out on a podium, but we have shown that we can be the third-strongest team in the championship."

Rookie Renault team-mate Nelsinho Piquet was rather less fortunate. After being the only man to take the start on intermediate rubber, the Brazilian initially leapt up to seventh spot, but as the track surface dried out so he dropped back, and he would become the race's first retiree when he spun into the barriers shortly after changing over to slick tyres on lap 14.

"The plan was to run a one-stop strategy," the 23-year-old explained, "so my car was heavy on fuel. I made a good start and gained five places, which was encouraging, but there were still some damp patches on the circuit and I made a mistake.

"It's a shame, because I'm sure we could have done something. I want to remain positive and I'm looking forward to Monza, where we tested last week. I hope we can have a strong race there."

Having now closed the gap on Toyota to just five points following Timo Glock's penalty for passing under yellow flags, the French outfit is bidding to maintain that pressure all the way to the end of the season, as the former double world championship-winning squad bids to get back on-track towards regaining its erstwhile glories.

"We had a good strategy and Fernando did everything right," underlined managing director Flavio Briatore, "which paid us back with a fourth place just behind the top two teams. It's an encouraging result that we are pleased to score for ING in the Belgian Grand Prix, and we now want to maintain this momentum for Monza next week. We are confident that we can continue fighting back in the constructors' championship."

"Once again, unpredictability produced a superb race," added the Enstone-based concern's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. "It's pleasing for us that the car was very quick in the dry conditions, and that we achieved a good finishing position through fantastic driving from Fernando and good teamwork from everyone. Our target is fourth position in the championship, and this was a good step towards that."


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