Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Chinese GP – Ferrari on the fifth row with Alonso and the sixth with Massa
Shanghai, 14 April – The F2012s of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will start tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix from the fifth and sixth rows of the grid. The Spanish Scuderia Ferrari driver set the ninth fastest time in 1.36.622 in the third part of qualifying at the Shanghai circuit this afternoon. His team-mate did not get past Q2 and will start from twelfth (1.36.255.) Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes took his maiden pole in 1.35.121 and starting alongside him will be his team-mate and fellow countryman Michael Schumacher (1.35.691.) Lewis Hamilton was actually second quickest in the McLaren (1.35.626) but takes a five place grid penalty for having required a gearbox change.

Chinese GP – Nothing new from Sepang to Shanghai Alonso 9th and Massa 12th in qualifying
The circuit, the country and the weather might change, but the result of qualifying for Scuderia Ferrari remains the same. In Sepang, we had one driver, Fernando Alonso in ninth and the other, Felipe Massa in twelfth. In Shanghai, the Ferrari men produced an identical result. Also the same as in Malaysia was the management strategy for the Pirelli tyres: one set of Prime, which here is the Hard and one of Option (Soft) in Q1, one used and one new Soft in Q2. Fernando then used the last set of Soft available on his only run in Q3.

Stefano Domenicali: “Whoever understands that is very clever! I challenge anyone to produce a rational explanation of how this afternoon’s qualifying went, not just for ourselves, but also as far as almost all the other cars are concerned. We went from having very small gaps in Q2, with eleven drivers in around three tenths of one another, to much bigger differences in Q3, with very strong fluctuations in some cases. Given our current situation and above all, the fact that at this track, the major weaknesses of the F2012 seem to be particularly marked, this result is an accurate reflection of where we are in terms of outright performance, even if we have seen that later, in the race, things can change. Sure, it’s not what we were looking for at the start of the season, but today we have to make a virtue of necessity. With a grid like tomorrow’s we can expect an even more open race than we might have done going into the weekend. Our aim is clear: to get both cars home in the points and make the most of any opportunity that comes along during the race.”

Fernando Alonso: “We knew this would be a difficult qualifying and that’s how it turned out. We managed to get into Q3, staying ahead of Vettel by a few thousandths. Then, from Q2 to Q3, the wind changed direction and that was penalising. The car is what it is and the improvements we brought here are not sufficient to produce a jump in performance and so this position corresponds more or less to our current potential. Sure, we cannot be happy to be a second off pole position, but all we can do is work to try and close this gap. If we do enough of a good job then we can think about winning, otherwise not. But I remain optimistic: even in 2010, we were significantly behind the best, but all the same, we got to the final race leading the World Championship…The starting grid is very exciting and curious, with two Mercedes, one Sauber and a Lotus in front of the rest. We cannot permit ourselves to make any mistakes because we certainly don’t have the best car: if we manage to operate perfectly, as we did in Australia and Malaysia, then we can think about bringing home valuable points.”

Felipe Massa: “On the one hand I am obviously unhappy not to have made it through to Q3 but, on the other, I have to be pleased with my position if I consider where we were this morning at the end of FP3. In the afternoon, the situation improved, the car had much more grip and I managed to be more competitive, but I couldn’t say exactly why. Probably the track conditions changed in a way that suited us. We hope to continue like this tomorrow afternoon and to bring home a good result: it’s really needed right now! I so much want a normal race, a calm one in which I manage to do my job well and pick up some points. I still don’t have any and the moment has come to remove this zero from the classification.”

Pat Fry: “This result is in line with our potential in this initial part of the season, but the way we got there was rather surprising. I am struggling to remember the last time Q2 was as close as this afternoon’s, with eleven drivers all within less than four tenths and then, a few minutes later, significant gaps reappearing between the top and the bottom in Q3. From what we can understand after a quick first analysis, the optimum useage window for the tyres Pirelli has brought here is so tight that it only takes equally small changes in temperature to significantly change car behaviour. After a third free practice session that was particularly difficult, we made some changes to the set-up on Felipe’s car, however, they alone cannot explain the improvement we saw in qualifying. Having said that, now we must think only of preparing as well as possible for a race that will be long and stressful, especially for the tyres. No rain is forecast for the afternoon, therefore it will be difficult to repeat the amazing result from Sepang, but all the same, we must be always ready to exploit every opportunity, which is the norm with a team that does not have the most competitive package in the field. We have the possibility of getting both drivers into the points and this must be our target: we will gladly take anything extra that might come our way!”

Qualifying session
Q1 ALO 2nd 1.36.292 8 MAS 5th 1.36.556 8
Q2 ALO 10th 1.35.982 6 MAS 12th 1.36.255 6
Q3 ALO 9th 1.36.622 3        

Weather: air 19/20 °C, track 24/26 °C; covered skies. Chassis: Alonso 295, Massa 294

Chinese GP – Different day, same result, but plenty of surprises
Shanghai, 14 April – The current world championship leader will start tomorrow’s third round of the World Championship from ninth place on the grid and his team-mate is twelfth. Under normal F1 circumstances, that would seem an unusual scenario, but it’s not, given that the current leader is Fernando Alonso in the F2012 that Scuderia Ferrari knows is not yet competitive enough when compared to its usual rivals. His team-mate, Felipe Massa missed the cut into Q3 by around two tenths of a second, getting closer in terms of lap time to Fernando than in the first two rounds of this year’s series. Proving that this season is throwing up plenty of unusual scenarios is the fact that the Brazilian Ferrari man starts on the sixth row on the outside of reigning champion, Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. So it’s been a case of different day, same result, as the Ferrari grid positions are identical to those at the Sepang circuit three weeks ago.

In fact, the top part of the grid also looks surprising, although it has to be said that the experts predicted Mercedes, with its unique aero elements, would be quick at this track. And so it was, allowing Nico Rosberg to take his first ever F1 pole position, which means a Mercedes also starts from the number one slot for the first time, if one discounts the Silver Arrows that raced over half a century ago. In fact, it was a good day for the Anglo-German outfit, as they will monopolise the front row for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix. Rosberg’s team-mate, Michael Schumacher was third fastest this afternoon, behind Lewis Hamilton. But as the McLaren man drops from second to seventh on the grid with a penalty for requiring a gearbox change, the German veteran will have his first front row start since making his F1 comeback.

Hot on the heels of Sergio Perez’s second place in the Ferrari-powered Sauber in the Malaysia race, today it was his team-mate, Kamui Kobayashi who delivered a fine performance and will start from the inside of the second row with Kimi Raikkonen in fourth place for Lotus. Row 3 features fifth placed Jenson Button in the McLaren and Mark Webber the best of the Red Bulls. Fernando shares Row 5 with Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. Behind Felipe, the remaining 12 drivers all line up in neat team pairs.

A prediction for dry weather tomorrow means there are unlikely to be as many surprises as in the rain soaked Sepang circuit, but the “lively” grid might throw some opportunities our way. Whatever happens, the Chinese Grand Prix looks like sticking to its tradition of providing an interesting afternoon’s entertainment.