Fernando Alonso paid the price of the first major mechanical problem for the McLaren Mercedes team this season, failing to set a time in the final part of qualifying.

Initial suspicions suggested engine failure, but the Spaniard appears to have got off relatively lightly with the team reporting gearbox problems that should allow him to start from tenth on the grid rather than from the back two rows, which would have been necessary if an engine change had been required.

"We have had the best possible level of reliability throughout the season so far but, today, Fernando had to stop with a gearbox problem," Mercedes' Norbert Haug confirmed, "We are sorry for Fernando, but everybody in the team will give it everything to fix today's problem. With his speed, Fernando will still have a chance for a good result tomorrow."

The problem was not Alonso's first of the weekend - and followed one for team-mate Lewis Hamilton on Friday - as the Spaniard also lost a lot of track time in morning practice with sensor failure on his MP4-22.

"It has not been an easy day in terms of luck but, hopefully, we can turn things around tomorrow," the world champion sighed, "I had a brake sensor issue in this morning's practice, which cost me some time, and then a gearbox problem in the final qualifying. It's a relatively new experience for me as I have had no problems for such a long time. We will look at the car when it comes back from parc ferme and take things from there."

Although being a part of the top ten means that Alonso is limited in changes he can make with regard to his strategy for race day, the Spaniard is confident that he can still limit the damage that could be inflicted by team-mate Hamilton and the two Ferraris, which sandwich the Briton at the head of the grid.

"Anything can happen in the race, and we will work as hard as we can to score some important points," Alonso maintained, "Also, some people say it may be raining, which will lead to some uncertainties which we might be able to benefit from."

Team boss Ron Dennis admitted that it had been frustrating to see his driver suffer rare problems in an important session, but remained convinced that the McLaren was quick enough to make up places on Sunday.

"So far this year, we have not suffered from any major technical problems during race weekends and it's disappointing that the first one ruined Fernando's qualifying session today," Dennis said, "He had the speed to qualify on the front row but, with a good strategy, he should be able to make up some positions in tomorrow's race. The suspected rain adds some unpredictability we may be able to turn to our advantage."



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