F1 veteran Giancarlo Minardi has praised Fernando Alonso for making the difference between a top six finish and a return to the podium for Ferrari in last weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.

The Spaniard had started fifth on the grid, after Michael Schumacher's demotion, but looked set to remain outside the top three as he chased Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton through the early stages of the race. With the first round of pit-stops put back by the teams in fear that it might rain just as they were swapping sets of slicks, and then taking place without precipitation, overtaking opportunities were limited by the longer stints.

Alonso, however, knew just what he did and, confident that the Ferrari team would uphold its end of the pit-stop bargain, produced the perfect in-lap to give them every chance of overhauling Hamilton.

"Tyres are making engineer's job on track, and their efforts to determine a car's best stability, harder and harder," Minardi reflected, "We've been noticing differences even between cars of the same team. Webber, Rosberg and Alonso made a good job, and the Spanish driver, with his third place, is now the standings' leader.

"The keystone was in the 30th lap, when Alonso, just before getting out for a pit-stop, marked the race's best splits, going ahead of Hamilton. Congratulations to the mechanics, because it took only 3.7secs for them to do the job, and congratulations also to Fernando who made a difference just in the crucial moment."

Minardi reckoned that the next couple of races could be crucial for the Scuderia's season, and noted the welcome return to form of Felipe Massa in Monaco.

"Massa succeeded in getting back to Q3 and, during the race, he was next to the [lead] group," he explained, "I think this result could be a good new lease on confidence. I think that the Brazilian driver still can give his contribution to Ferrari and help it get up to the first three positions of the championship. The two next races [in Montreal and Valencia] should go to Ferrari's benefit."

Although the top six cars were covered by just six seconds at the chequered flag, as rain again threatened to upset proceedings, Minardi also recognised the efforts of the driver who, at one point, looked on course for seventh place, despite having started 17th.

"I'm sorry for [Jean-Eric] Vergne, who dearly paid the choice of changing tyres at the 18th lap," he said, referring to the Frenchman's early stop that left him requiring fresh rubber in the closing stages, despite already having run both mandatory compounds.

"Since the driver was in trouble with the race, his team decided to attempt a change, hoping for rain to fall - but it didn't rain so hard. In the last 14 laps, the car was equipped with unsuitable tyres and, even if the driver hadn't stopped, he would have been out of the top ten as well, given the fact the group was very close-knit. He was handling a good race, and so was his team mate. He is a driver we should keep an eye on for the rest of the season. He makes interesting times and grows up race by race."

There was less praise, however, for another Frenchman, after Romain Grosjean's race ended on lap one, along with those of Pedro de la Rosa and Pastor Maldonado, who collided in the aftermath, while Kamui Kobayashi only made it four laps further after taking flight into turn one.

"The 78 laps were run without mistakes, under hard conditions and with different strategies," Minardi pointed out, "This was the case with Sebastian Vettel, who decided to start the race with soft tyres, in opposition to the lead group. Grosjean, however, made a hasty start - he has to pay more attention, because he has been making too many mistakes. What a pity for Lotus, which has one car which is performing, even if the team has to change its strategy."



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