sport

Alonso plays down podium chances

A cautious Fernando Alonso has warned Ferrari fans not to expect him to be fighting for a top-three finish in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

Alonso will start fifth at the Shanghai International Circuit after a qualifying session dominated by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and the rain as heavy grey skies made for a miserable scene.

With dry conditions expected for the race, playing into the hands of Mercedes, the expectation would be for Alonso to at least battle with Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who start second and third.

"We need to be realistic and not dream too much, not after finishing ninth and 10th (in Bahrain) 13 days ago," said Alonso.

"We can't go into the race thinking a podium is our only target that would make us happy. We need to take it step by step.

"I'm happy to finish fifth, to put the car in a good position, to give us an opportunity tomorrow to get some good points.

"First of all we need to avoid some of the battles like we've had in the first few laps of the races we've had so far, as we lost sight of the leaders a bit too much.

"Hopefully we can have a good, clean first lap and then try to follow the leaders.

"We're expecting Mercedes to be strong in dry conditions, so if we have good pace in the race and be close to Red Bull and fight with them then that is good news.

"But it doesn't mean we will fight for the podium because we're maybe not up there, although we're definitely closer.

"Hopefully it is the first step of many we want to make to be competitive."

Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, however, could only manage 11th, missing out on a place in the top 10 by 0.013secs.

At least for new team principal Marco Mattiacci, Alonso's position in qualifying has offered a degree of hope on his race weekend debut.

After conceding on Thursday he had yet to speak to Mattiacci in the wake of his appointment a few days earlier as replacement for Stefano Domenicali, who tendered his resignation, Alonso has now formed more of an opinion about the 43-year-old.

Reiterating Mattiacci needs time to make his mark, Alonso added: "He is really new to this environment.

"It's a stressful weekend for him because there are many things going on, many things on which he needs to get up to speed, to learn, like the procedures of a weekend, the approach in terms of meetings and strategies.

"So it's been a busy two days for him. He's listening a lot, writing some notes; he's a very clever man and very soon he will be up to speed.

"But we need time for his ideas. Until then we need to keep improving the car, keep giving our maximum, keep closing the gap to the guys in front until we have a car to compete at the top level."