SINGAPORE, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Formula One championship leader Fernando Alonso had to be content with fifth on the starting grid for the Singapore Grand Prix but the Spaniard still has designs on a podium place in a race that will exact a heavy toll on tyres and drivers alike.
Alonso, who leads McLaren's Lewis Hamilton by 37 points in the standings, knew qualifying in pole position would be beyond his Ferrari but said Sunday's race could be determined by a range of factors including the weather, pit-stop strategy and the slightest lapse in concentration.
Hamilton will start on pole for the race alongside Williams' Pastor Maldonado, with Reb Bull's Sebastian Vettel and McLaren's Jenson Button making up the second row.
"Today, pole position was absolutely out of our grasp: Hamilton was on another planet," the Spaniard told reporters.
"We must settle for this fifth place but that doesn't mean we are not hoping to improve on it tomorrow, our target is the podium."
Alonso has won twice in Singapore, including the scandal-hit inaugural race in 2008, and said he would have to be at his best to get to the end of the race.
"The race will be very long, very hard physically and mentally, because you need to always concentrate to the maximum, with no margin for error - the slightest mistake can carry a high price on a track where the barriers are very close," he added.
"Reliability will be very important and the number one priority will be getting to the finish in the best possible position."
Alonso's team mate, Felipe Massa, had a disappointing qualifying session and will start 13th on the grid. The Brazilian hoped to finish in the points and said strategy would be key.
"We must look carefully at the strategy, starting with which tyre to use for the start of the race - there's a lot of difference in speed between the two compounds but both seem to degrade significantly.
"The aim will be to finish the race in the points, which definitely won't be easy, but we'll give it our best shot."
Ferrari are third in the constructors standings, 46 points behind leaders Red Bull. (Editing by John O'Brien)