Fernando Alonso insists battle is very much back on between McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari in the European Grand Prix this weekend, even though he admitted he was both surprised and relieved to be lining up on the front row of the grid.

The McLaren and Ferrari drivers had traded times between them throughout free practice and the opening two qualifying sessions at the N?rburgring, but Alonso's final effort looked to have been severely compromised when he got sideways through the high-speed Esses in sector two of the lap following a lightning first split time.

"I lost the rear in turn five," the Spaniard explained. "I touched the grass a little bit on the outside and really lost the car, and then suddenly it came back into position for turn seven. For 50 or 60 meters the car was not in my control, so I was lucky enough to get it back onto the asphalt again.

"At that point you really feel you have lost seconds because you have qualifying momentum; maybe it was only three or four tenths, but for me it seemed much more. From that moment I thought for sure I had lost too much time and that pole position was not possible anymore, so I just tried to do a good rest of the lap to be fifth or sixth. When I realised I was second I was pretty pleased and quite surprised."

Alonso acknowledged it had been something of a shock to witness team-mate Lewis Hamilton's crash during the third session, but he stressed it did not give him any cause for concern that a similar problem may befall his MP4-22.

"It's never easy for sure," he admitted, "even moreso if the accident happens to one of the cars in your team. But this is Formula 1, this is motor racing, so we try to keep going with our job. After qualifying we have a little bit more time but in those moments you only have 15 or 20 minutes tops. Sitting there in the car you lose momentum and concentration a little bit, and you have only one chance because there's just five minutes of the session remaining which makes it a little more stressful.

"When you see a similar car with a problem, you are never 100 per cent sure whether everything is ok, but in this case I had no worries because it happened in Q3 and we had been driving with this same car all day. Throughout P3, Q1 and Q2 nothing had happened to either car, so the way it happened in the middle of Q3 I was quite sure my car was perfectly ok.

"I don't think there is a problem with safety. It is just motor racing and it has been an unlucky period with the (Robert) Kubica accident, but as we saw in GP2 in France and now with this, these things happen. I think everybody has done a good job in terms of the safety of the circuits. From a driver's point-of-view we know there is a risk of having an accident in F1, but what we don't want is to get hurt. Thanks to God in these three accidents, even though they were big nothing happened to the drivers, so that is the important point."

One positive for Hamilton was Alonso's assertion that nothing would be over until the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoon. Another thing the 25-year-old was keen to underline was that after two races in the comparative doldrums, McLaren was very much back on-form and capable of taking the fight to Ferrari once more.

"Maybe the three of us (Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa) will have gearbox problems and none of us will score points," the reigning double world champion said. "On Sunday afternoon we will see what happens. We knew at Magny-Cours and Silverstone we were a little bit slower; at Magny-Cours especially we saw very good pace from Ferrari. At Silverstone we were a little bit closer, but there was still more to find.

"Here all weekend the car has not been too bad. I was first in Q1 and second in Q2, quite close to Felipe, so there's no doubt we are very close to them again. We will see how the strategy goes for everybody, but hopefully we will have a chance to win the race."



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