Having scored more points in Formula 1 over the last three races than any other driver on the grid, Fernando Alonso has put himself in good stead for a fourth consecutive solid haul in the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, by placing his Renault a superb fourth in qualifying at Fuji Speedway.

The Spaniard - still on a high from his shock Singapore Grand Prix victory two weeks ago, his first triumph in the top flight in more than a year - has once again been on fine form in Japan, where he will be bidding to banish the painful memories of last season, when he arguably crashed away his chances of three consecutive drivers' titles after aquaplaning on a puddle on the treacherous, water-logged surface.

Having featured comfortably inside the top eight in all three practice sessions and the first two parts of the qualifying hour around the 4.5km circuit twelve months on, the double F1 World Champion pulled a brilliant lap out of the bag right at the end of Q3 to demote Ferrari's Felipe Massa and BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica to the third row of the grid.

Indeed, just over three hundredths of a second more and the 27-year-old would also have had the pleasure of pipping Heikki Kovalainen, the man who replaced him at McLaren-Mercedes this year, into the bargain.

"We can be happy with fourth place," Alonso affirmed. "It is a good result, and the work we did yesterday certainly paid us back today. We had a bit of trouble in Q2, but in Q3 with fuel on-board the car felt good, which is encouraging for the race tomorrow. I think we can realistically aim for a top five finish."

The Asturian has already had five of those this season, but achieving the same will be a rather taller order for young rookie team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, who all-but matched Alonso in Q1, only to fall some four tenths of a second away in Q2 and consequently end up eight spots adrift in twelfth.

"I am very disappointed," reflected the 23-year-old, under pressure to retain his seat at the French concern next year. "I made a mistake in Q2 and I wasn't able to make it through to Q3.

"It's all-the-more frustrating because the car was really working well and I was feeling comfortable with it. I won't give up, but I know that the race tomorrow will be difficult and I will do all that I can to try and fight through the field."

Having registered points in six of the last eight outings, Renault has forged ahead of Toyota in the battle for the coveted and highly-prized fourth position in the constructors' world standings. With both of the Japanese manufacturer's cars beginning, like Alonso, inside the points-scoring places on race day at Fuji, however, all concerned are well aware there can be no let-up just yet.

"Fernando's position on the grid is as high as we could have hoped for," underlined the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, "so we are satisfied with our afternoon and hopeful of a strong race tomorrow.

"Nelson has had an excellent weekend as he showed with his seventh position in Q1, but unfortunately in Q2 things did not really go as we would have wished. Nevertheless, he has been quick and we hope we can have a strong race with him as well tomorrow."

"Once again, qualifying was very close and the competition to reach Q3 was extremely competitive," added the R?gie's head of engine track operations Denis Chevrier. "There are obviously still lots of unknowns at this stage of the weekend, but we have opted for an appropriate strategy and I think we can hope for a good result tomorrow with Fernando.

"For Nelson, we will think things over this evening and try and find a strategy that will allow him to do something in the race, but we know we must not underestimate our rivals in the fight for fourth in the championship."