Fresh hope for Ferrari after Alonso 5th
By NEIL FRANKLAND
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Having been written off after a poor qualifying session, Ferrari discovered fresh hope for the season ahead when Fernando Alonso took a creditable fifth-place finish at Sunday's season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix.
And Alonso's simple message after the race to the team's doubters was to never underestimate Ferrari.
A troubled preseason had Ferrari itself warning of a slow start to the season, and such pessimism appeared justified when two-time F1 champion Alonso qualified 12th on Saturday and his teammate Felipe Massa 16th.
But Alonso's finish as the best of the rest behind the two McLarens and two Red Bulls would bolster team spirit.
"Ferrari is Ferrari," Alonso said after the race. "It's one of the good things. There are maybe cars that are quicker than us now, but it's like when Manchester United or Chelsea play bad one game, but they still win 1-0."
After qualifying, the Spaniard said his car was not quick enough to fight for the top places and the team's first priority would be to finish in the top ten, but Alonso exceeded those expectations.
"It was the same car," Alonso said after the race.
"It definitely was the same car, but it definitely was a very good race for us in terms of preparation," he added. "We have a lot of experience."
Alonso said the 10 points Ferrari collected in Melbourne were a bonus as the team gradually refines its cars to fight for victories in the European part of the season.
"I'm very happy with (today's) result, there was damage limitation in terms of the number of points that we get from this weekend," he said. "It was a tough weekend from Friday.
"Then in the race, to finish in fifth behind the two McLarens and two Red Bulls is the best news from the weekend in terms of the team."
But Alonso confirmed there was still a lot of work to be done if Ferrari is to challenge for the drivers' or constructors' championships.
"For sure there is a lot of work in front of us in the next couple of weeks to improve the car," he said. "We were one second off the pace yesterday in qualifying, which is too much and hopefully in the next couple of weeks we improve (in) tenths.
"The difference compared to last year is that within one second there is maybe 12 or 14 cars, so if you improve two or three-tenths last year it didn't mean anything. This year you are maybe five positions better the next race."
Massa had a more disappointing race, and retired after colliding with fellow Brazilian Bruno Senna of Williams.
Updated March 18, 2012