Fernando Alonso may continue to play down his chances of taking a third victory in a row in 2008 in the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend, but after qualifying fourth in Shanghai, just such a possibility cannot be altogether discounted.
The Spaniard has been impressive from the 'off' around the Shanghai International Circuit – a track on which he boasts a better record than any other current driver, with a win, two runner-up positions and a fourth place from his four previous appearances – and he confirmed that promise by sealing a second row starting spot, equalling the position from which he swept to the top step of the podium in Japan only a week ago.
“I'm very happy with my qualifying session,” the former double Formula 1 World Champion stated afterwards. “We had a few problems with the balance of the car this morning, but everything went well this afternoon and the car was much easier to drive.
“I know it will be very difficult to fight for the victory tomorrow, but my grid position means that I can hope for a great race and I will be ready to make the most of any chances that come our way.”
Rookie team-mate Nelsinho Piquet had looked a fairly solid bet to join Alonso in the final part of qualifying on the back of strong early pace and arguably the finest performance of his fledgling career in the top flight to take the chequered flag fourth at Fuji, but whilst the under-pressure Brazilian will begin the grand prix from inside the top ten, he will only do so following Mark Webber's ten-place penalty in the Red Bull Racing, after he failed to make the Q3 shoot-out by the tiniest of margins.
“It's frustrating to miss out on a place in Q3 by just seven thousandths of a second,” admitted the 23-year-old, fighting to retain his F1 seat with the Régie
next year, “as I would have really liked to reach this part of qualifying. I am going to work with my engineers this evening and I'm hopeful of a strong race tomorrow. I will do my best in any case.”
Renault needs to score just two points more than Toyota this weekend to put the highly-coveted fourth positions in the constructors' title chase out-of-reach of its Japanese rivals, and the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds acknowledged that qualifying had been an encouraging start.
“This morning was very difficult,” the Englishman underlined, “but not just for us because the grip for all the cars seemed to be surprisingly low. We didn't make major changes for this afternoon, but the circuit seemed to come to the car. Just 0.007 seconds would have put Nelson into Q3, but Fernando's starting position looks good for tomorrow.”
“Fernando had a very good qualifying session,” added the French concern's head of engine track operations Denis Chevrier, “and even though Nelson did not make it through to Q3 today, the potential was there and it was a good effort from him, especially his last attempt in Q2.
“Everything is open, but we have confirmed our overall performance from Fuji and we can now hope for a great race tomorrow afternoon.”