After a difficult start to the season, this podium is a confidence boost for the whole team, providing extra motivation for all those who are doing their best to close the gap to the front. And I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano, as everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts. We have definitely made a step forward, because compared to two weeks ago, we have partly closed the gap to the leaders, but we are well aware there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep our feet on the ground. In general, this has been a good weekend for me, as everything went well right from Friday, although the rain made qualifying more complicated than expected. I was on the limit all race long and I really don’t think I could have done any more. This is quite a unique track of its kind and now we must make the most of the long break before the next race to prepare as well as possible for whatever situation arises
When it rains you never know how things will turn out as track conditions can get worse lap after lap and so that’s one reason for me to be pleased with the way qualifying went. Fifth place means I can start with the lead group and if I can stay with the leaders we can finish close to the podium. The opening laps will count for a lot therefore and we must try our absolute best to get a good start and to avoid battles, which in the last few races have seen us lose ground. Yesterday, the car was more competitive and that means we can hope for a better race than in the last three. I think that here in China, we have taken the first step towards improving; the car behaved well in all areas and is performing better on the aerodynamic front, thanks to the small updates we have introduced here and we have more power, having revised some settings on the power unit. Certainly, we are still a long way off the pace of the leaders, because they too are progressing, but we can hope to fight for better positions and more points
All Fridays are the same, a day when you especially need to test the tyres to adapt to the circuit and on this front, maybe it was less useful than usual, because the forecast for tomorrow suggests rain is on the way. We have brought some small updates here, which we already tried at the Bahrain test. Everything worked well and that’s good news. Leaving aside the performance of the others, I am happy with what we have done today. At every race, all the teams bring something new and we must try and make an additional step forward if we want to be competitive. This track is particularly tough on tyres, with the Softs especially suffering from graining over a long run, so it will be important to work out the tyre plan for Sunday. If it rains tomorrow, we will definitely have less information for the race and we will have to rely on guesswork. Let’s hope we make the right choices.
Today’s race was complicated for us, even if we knew what to expect because, with its long straights, this track shows up our weak points. The team did a super job and sorted the problem I had yesterday in the final part of qualifying and the start and strategy were perfect. The Safety Car helped us make up a bit of ground on the cars ahead of us and also allowed us to save fuel, but it was not enough to change the result, with eight cars ahead of us doing a better job. Although we did all we could, we can’t be happy with our level of performance and now our sole focus must be on working day and night. The season is in its early stages and I think we can stage a recovery. We have the resources and the potential to do it and it’s all down to us. Next week will be very important as we get back on track on Tuesday and Wednesday to test in preparation for the upcoming races. We have got a very aggressive programme, which we need as our rivals will not just be sitting back and watching.
We tried our best as usual today and now we need to wait for the car to come back from parc ferme to work out why there was a drop in power in Q3. In winter testing here we had already seen that this circuit is particularly suited to the Mercedes powered cars, because the long straights allow them to use their top end performance. But given how free practice and the first two parts of qualifying had gone, maybe we could have hoped to be a bit higher up the order. Now, we must think only of doing well tomorrow, especially at the start, given we are on the clean side because of Ricciardo’s penalty. Then we must work out the best strategy, choosing between two or three stops. A lot will depend on how the tyres perform: I think that, in lower temperatures than we have seen so far, the Medium could throw up some surprises
Today was much cooler than expected in the Sakhir paddock, as Fernando Alonso faced the media, with his first comments defending the Scuderia’s title aspirations. “It would be extremely sad if I felt I would not be in the fight for the title in Abu Dhabi, as today is only the Thursday of the third race,” he affirmed. “I definitely think we can do a good job. It is early days for the development of the car and this year, instead of the usual half tenth performance increase, we are moving forward two tenths at a time. There is very good room to improve and become more competitive. No question, we think we will be in the fight in Abu Dhabi. We need to improve in all areas. We will try to do better, there have only been two races, so there’s a long way to go and we are ready to fight.”
Talking about the Formula 1 in 2014, Fernando did admit he would like the cars in general to be faster. “Driving these cars is still exciting because you are competing against others and that’s the DNA of a driver, we enjoy driving karts at 50 km/h on very hard tyres, sliding everywhere,” said the Spaniard. “You keep enjoying the competition but for drivers like me, Kimi or Jenson who were around before that, you miss the quicker cars. The cars are much less physically demanding. In the past, Malaysia required a specific training programme, but this year I told the team I didn’t even need a drinks system. The cars are still hard to drive, as they slide more and we have more switches to manage all through the race, which makes it more complicated. However, it’s interesting how F1 has developed over the 14 years I’ve been racing.”
The Spaniard anyway is keen to give the sport another chance: “There will always be some exciting races and some boring ones, just like in football, where you can see a terrible nil-nil game and the next one is an exciting 5-4 which you enjoy so much,” said the Ferrari man.
The points scored today are the result of a trouble free weekend, in which the small improvements on the car worked as we had expected and it ran very reliably. We definitely have a lot more work to do, because while we are moving forward, the others are doing the same. Everyone in our team is doing their utmost to close down the gap. There’s still a lot to learn in these early races, but it’s no secret that we definitely need to improve our top speed, as could be seen from my duel with Hulkenberg. I was able to get him thanks to fresher tyres, but we definitely need to up our performance right from the very next race. It will be very hot in Bahrain and the tyre compounds are softer. This might be an advantage to us, because on the harder tyres we are sliding a lot. Also, from the data we gathered there during winter testing, we might be able to extract more of our potential, but that will apply to everyone.
“I am really pleased with this fourth place, because to get into Q3 with the problem I had with the steering is really a good result. In a season when it takes a lot of time to make any sort of change to the cars, the guys managed to change the suspension in just a few minutes, which is a real record. They also got me back out on track at the right moment, which meant I could get into Q3. The incident with Kvyat was unfortunate for both of us and was inevitable, because by the time I saw the Toro Rosso it was too late. As usual in the rain, visibility is significantly reduced and it becomes a lottery. The team was super again in Q3 when it was a case of working out when to fit the set of new Extreme Wets we had: we did it at the start when the track conditions were better and so we were immediately able to do a quick lap. Starting from fourth and sixth places, I think the podium is possible and, apart from the form shown by Mercedes, the performance among those chasing them is reasonably close. This weekend, we opted to work more on race pace than on our single lap performance and the feeling is positive. But we know it will be tough and the uncertainty over the weather means it’s hard to know what sort of race to expect.”
We are on a learning curve, which is not unusual for the start of a championship and, to find out how competitive we are, as usual we will have to wait until Saturday and Sunday. Usually, Friday is a very confusing day, because everyone is working on their own programmes, but this year it’s even more the case because of all the new elements. Everything went well, with no reliability problems and we managed to do a fair number of laps, enough to get a good understanding of the tyres, which will be a very important factor here because of the high temperatures. The Hard compound seems to stand up better over a long run, but it’s still too early to talk about qualifying and race strategy. For now, the only thing one can be sure of is the need to do everything to perfection