Alonso expects more from "conservative" Ferrari

Associated Press
Fernando Alonso of Spain in a Ferrari pulls into in his garage during the first practice session ahead of the Australian F1 GP in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, March 25, 2011. Both Ferrari cars are sporting a Japanese flag in support for the tsunami earthquake tragedy. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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Fernando Alonso has dismissed Ferrari's disappointing qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as resulting from a conservative approach to the start of the Formula One season and expects the team to challenge in Sunday's race.

Alonso qualified fifth on Saturday and teammate Felipe Massa eighth, a result that ran contrary to high expectations entering this weekend after a good offseason of testing.

"Clearly we can't be happy with this result, but we must not immediately make a drama out of it," Alonso said. "We definitely didn't get the most out of the car, and we have to understand the reasons for that."

The two-time world champion said Ferrari a "very conservative approach" to qualifying.

"We knew if we took a big risk we may be fourth, if we are safe, we go fifth or sixth, so no need to take risks in the first qualifying of the season," he said.

The Spaniard also said there was a reduced importance of qualifying due to the number of pit stops this season.

"Fifth place on the grid is not too bad and it means I'm in a position to fight for a podium finish in a race that is still wide open," Alonso said.

The introduction of Pirelli tires, which have been designed to degrade faster, means all drivers are expected to pit at least three times for fresh rubber. That means the race will largely be decided by the timing of the pit stops and the ability to make the tires last longer rather than early track position established by qualifying.

"Overall grip was where we lacked," the two-time world champion said. "We were not so bad yesterday, so we missed something today."

Ferrari must also be concerned at the 1.4 second gap between the qualifying time of pole sitter Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and that of Alonso, particularly given Vettel did not use the KERS power boost system on his pole-setting lap.

"Position we are happy, distance from pole we are not happy," Alonso said. "So we need to look at that overnight.

"Also the distance to Sauber, Toro Rosso, Renault — in winter testing we were one second ahead of them and here it is only 0.2 to 0.3secs," the Spaniard said. "So we missed something in our car. I suspect this was not normal pace from us and we will get better and better tomorrow."

Meanwhile the troubles continued for Massa, who qualified six tenths of a second behind his teammate. He suffered an embarrassing moment in the closing minutes of qualifying when he emerged from the pits and immediately spun at low speed at the first corner, damaging his tires for his final flying lap.

"I accelerated and the tires were evidently still too cold," he said. "The set were not damaged for the race, but it was definitely not a help with my flying lap."

Earlier, the Brazilian only just squeaked into the second part of qualifying. When the checkered flag was waved he was in 18th place and was staring at elimination when he ran wide at a corner on his final lap, but managed to do just enough to make it into Q2.

"Sure, I did not think I would be fighting for pole, especially when you look at the very quick time Vettel did, but I had hoped to be higher up the order," Massa said.

The driver who came so close to winning the 2008 world championship has not looked the same since the life-threatening crash at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, and on Saturday's form he looks like again being a distinct No.2 in the team.

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