Fernando Alonso admitted that he had extracted the very maximum possible out of his Renault in qualifying sixth for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos this weekend, as team-mate Nelsinho Piquet – competing on home turf for the first time as a Formula 1 driver – missed the top ten by an agonising three hundredths of a second.
Though Alonso had topped both FP2 and FP3 around the Autodromo Carlos Pace in São Paulo – the scene of both of his back-to-back F1 World Championship triumphs with the Régie
in 2005 and 2006 – the Enstone-based outfit's technical director Pat Symonds had sought to stress that the latter had been achieved on low fuel, and was therefore not entirely representative of the true situation.
That much was confirmed in qualifying, when after making it comfortably through Q1, the Spaniard only survived Q2 by the narrow margin of five hundredths of a second. Though his worst starting position since Singapore, sixth place in the final reckoning, the man from Oviedo contended, was about as good as it was going to get.
“We thought it would be very close and competitive this afternoon,” the 27-year-old underlined, “and we were not mistaken. We knew that it would be difficult to try and match the Ferraris and McLarens, so I think we have done our maximum by qualifying in sixth place. I now hope that the strategy and the tyres work as expected so that we can have a strong race tomorrow.”
“It's clear that I would have liked to reach Q3 today,” countered an understandably disappointed Piquet, who had lapped an encouraging seventh-quickest in Q1 to the delight of his partisan supporters. “The car was working well, I was comfortable and I pushed hard, but that wasn't enough.
“The times are very close, just as we expected, but I must now concentrate on the race tomorrow where I will do everything to try and move forward and score some points.”
Having already assured itself of the coveted fourth spot in the end-of-season constructors' world rankings, Renault now has no specific goal but equally no pressure in this, the final race of the campaign. The team will be endeavouring, Symonds confirmed, to go out on a high to set itself up in style for 2009.
“As usual, the very short lap time here produced a close grid,” the Englishman reflected. “Nelson was very unlucky not to make Q3, as he was just a fraction slower than Fernando in Q2. Fernando did a magnificent job as always, and secured a good grid position with a sensible fuel load. We are now looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
“After free practice this morning, we had realistic hopes of reaching Q3 with both cars,” added Denis Chevrier, the French concern's head of engine track operations. “Nelson just missed out on a place by a few hundredths, which is frustrating for his home grand prix, but he will have the freedom to adapt to the conditions we get tomorrow.
“As this will be a 71-lap race, the strategy and starting fuel loads meant that the gaps in Q3 were especially close today. Now we have to wait for tomorrow, but we are hopeful of a positive race.”