‘It would be sweet to lead’

Alonso turned in a stunning lap to take a surprise second and claim his first front-row grid slot since his last pole position at the 2012 German Grand Prix for Ferrari.

The Alpine driver ended up 0.645s behind the dominant Verstappen but has promised to “attack” the Red Bull driver on the run to Turn 1 at the start of Sunday’s grand prix.

Asked what his goal is for the race, Alonso replied: “The goal is to lead the race in Lap 1, so Turn 1 maximum attack!

“Then after that they [Red Bull and Ferrari] can go and they can fight but it would be sweet to lead the race.”

However, the 40-year-old two-time world champion does not realistically believe he will be able to challenge for his first victory since winning the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

“I’m not sure what are the possibilities tomorrow, realistically,” Alonso added. “I would say the top five is what we should fight for.

“We have a very good starting position but we know our limitations and we’ve seen races where Red Bull or Ferrari are starting last or having a puncture on Lap 1 and they still finish with a good margin in front of us.

“I think the top four places are locked, so fifth is like a win for us and that is probably the spot we should aim for.”

Asked if there is any possibility of beating Verstappen, Alonso replied: “I don’t think that we are in that luxury position, at least in our case. Ferrari has been fighting for wins but we have been fighting for eighth, ninth, 10th so far.

“It’s good to start in the front row, it has been a pretty competitive weekend. The car has kept improving in the last few races with the new parts. But I think that our realistic position is not in the top five.

“Let’s try to have a clean race, execute a good strategy, good tire management and score as many points as possible. To think about the win is completely unrealistic.”

Alonso buoyed by Alpine improvements

Alonso’s best qualifying result in a decade followed a competitive showing in dry conditions on Friday, before he topped a wet final practice.

The Spaniard believes his qualifying result is a reflection of the recent gains made by his Alpine team, even if the weather ultimately enhanced their true performance.

“We were P3 in FP3 this morning so it seemed like we were okay in wet conditions,” Alonso explained.

“But it was not really wet from Q2 onwards, it was nearly dry in the end. So in a way I was thinking ‘why could it not be a little bit wetter and rain a little bit now’. Maybe that was the best thing for us but eventually at the end it was not necessary and we were also okay in these semi-dry conditions.

“The car was also fast yesterday on dry, fast on the long run pace as well, and fast in the wet conditions this morning and now. So far it has been a very competitive weekend for us.”

When informed of the sizeable gap to Verstappen, Alonso responded: “So that’s a lot!

“They are in a different league for sure and it was not in our wildest dreams to be on pole position. So we will take the first row for sure, that is maybe better than any expectation.

“Let’s see. I think we are still missing a little bit of downforce, a little bit of total grip in the car. We have been working a lot on the tire degradation, a lot of set-up changes.

“I think we are better prepared than any other race so far this year, so let’s finish the job tomorrow.”

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